Our guest blogger is Sarah Bufkin, a former ThinkProgress intern.
Ignoring the vocal opposition of activists and labor organizers, the state senate passed an anti-protest, anti-union bill on March 7. If passed into law, the proposed measure would both make it more difficult for unions to collect dues and set exorbitant fines against many union protests against anti-worker businesses: up to $1,000 per day for those individuals charged with illegal picketing and up to $10,000 to those organizations involved with the illegal protesting.
Senate Bill 469—which GOP senators pushed onto the House’s agenda with a 34-18 vote—is sponsored by four senators who are also members of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate front group that pushes “model” legislation to state lawmakers intended to push a right-wing agenda in the states. Although it’s not clear whether SB 469 is such a bill, there are reasons to fear that similar bills could make their way to other states through ALEC’s network of corporate-friendly lawmakers.
The four ALEC members behind SB 469 include Sen. Bill Cowsert (R), who works with ALEC’s Criminal Justice Task Force, and Sen. Bill Hamrick (R), who received campaign contributions from the ALEC during the 2010 election cycle even though he ran unopposed. Significantly, there are also striking similarities between sections of SB 469 and ALEC’s model Right to Work Act:
- SB 469: Section III of SB 469 states, “No employer shall deduct from the wages or other earnings of any employee any fee, assessment, or other sum of money whatsoever to be held for or to be paid over to a labor organization except on annual written authorization from the employee which shall not exceed a period greater than one year. Such authorization may be revoked at any time at the request of the employee.”
- ALEC: ALEC’s Right to Work model bill states, “It shall be unlawful to deduct from the wages, earnings, or compensation of an employee any union dues, fees, assessments, or other charges to be held for, transferred to, or paid over to a labor organization, unless the employee has first presented, and the employer has received, a signed written authorization of such deductions, which authorization may be revoked by the employee at any time by giving written notice.”
Although such a requirement may not seem particularly important, it moves more of the onus of dues collecting onto labor unions, thereby diverting more of their resources and time from pushing for greater benefits for their members.
Furthermore, the GA bill includes a section that threatens to charge protestors not only with criminal trespassing but also with conspiracy to commit criminal trespass—a highly irregular revision of the law that would label the conspiracy charge as a “misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature” and bring harsher legal penalties for those convicted.
The addition of the conspiracy to commit criminal trespass charge follows only eight days after 12 Occupy Atlanta supporters were arrested for criminal trespass after protesting outside AT&T’s Atlanta offices. Given that AT&T is currently one of the 23 corporations serving on ALEC’s Board of Directors, some speculate the timing is no coincidence.
But regardless of where the bill originated, the proposed legislation poses a grave threat to any activists looking to change the status quo through civil disobedience. As Martin Luther King III told a crowd at a March 1 rally, the fines and penalties proposed in SB 469 would have stymied the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. We can only hope that the Georgia House of Representatives will listen to its constituents instead of its corporate backers when deliberating this piece of legislation in the weeks to come.