Our guest blogger is Rachel Curley, an intern at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has been described as a “collaboration between multinational corporations and conservative state legislators”, is waging a campaign against workers, especially those in minimum wage jobs with few to no benefits.
The National Employment Law Project (NELP) recently released a report that tracks “the concrete legislative campaign that ALEC has conducted over the past two years to translate economic ideology into law.” Since 2011, 105 bills “aimed to repeal or weaken core wage standards at the local level” have been introduced in 31 state legislatures, and of those 105 bills, 67 were “directly sponsored or co-sponsored by ALEC-affiliated legislators,” according to NELP. Already, eleven of the 67 bills sponsored by ALEC members have been signed into law.
The report released by NELP highlights three types of bills introduced in state legislatures that reflect “model” legislation already written by ALEC. The report focuses on living wage and prevailing wage repeal and preemption bills, but it also points to other bills designed to repeal, suspend, and weaken state minimum wage laws, as well as ones that weaken overtime compensation policies.
The first one of these preemption bills surfaced in Wisconsin in 2011. The bill targeted a 2008 Milwaukee ballot measure passed with 69 percent of the vote that required city businesses to provide paid sick leave to workers. In response, the Wisconsin legislature passed a law directly nullifying the paid sick leave ordinance. Judge Thomas Cooper of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court upheld the state law, noting that the Wisconsin legislature had “put a bull’s eye on paid sick days” and that the state was completely within its right to void the Milwaukee ordinance.
One sponsor of the bill in Wisconsin was state Sen. Glenn Grothman, a confirmed ALEC member. He previously supported Gov. Scott Walker in repealing the state’s equal pay law by claiming that “money is more important to men” and that “to attribute everything to so-called bias in the workplace is just not true.”
The strategy of ALEC-affiliated legislators, according to NELP, is to repeal current living wage policies or to preempt city and local governments from “establishing a living wage or prevailing wage policy in the first place.” Living wage and prevailing wage policies require employers who receive local government funds to pay their workers according to the cost of living in the area or industry standards for the region.
In Florida, confirmed ALEC member state Rep. Steve Precourt (R) has introduced legislation blocking paid sick leave policies currently under consideration in Orange and Miami-Dade counties. The policy being considered would require local businesses with 15 or more employees to provide leave. What ultimately happens to the local policy won’t matter if the preemptive legislation is passed first.
Other bills designed to preempt paid sick time and local minimum wage rates are working their way through the legislatures in Michigan and Mississippi. Both bills have confirmed ALEC-affiliated sponsors. The paid sick time law passed by the Seattle City Council is also being challenged in the Washington state legislature by Republican lawmakers. Three of the bill’s sponsors — Mike Padden, Barbera Bailey, and Don Benton — are confirmed ALEC members.
Pending a final vote this week by the Portland, Oregon and Philadelphia City Councils on a paid sick leave ordinances, Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. are currently the only cities in the country requiring businesses to provide paid sick leave for their employees (along with the state of Connecticut). The New York City Council will hold a public hearing on the earned sick time bill there on March 22.
ALEC and their allies recognize the momentum building behind these pro-worker bills and are intently pursuing a strategy of preempting local authority from adopting these policies. It’s imperative we draw attention and respond to these fundamentally anti-democratic attempts to revoke the rights of American workers.