Last year, Tennessee school teachers lost their collective bargaining rights. So did municipal workers in Oklahoma. And farm workers and childcare providers in Maine. Research assistants in Michigan, too.
These attacks on labor were not isolated instances of ideological union-busting, according to a report released today by the Economic Policy Institute. The study traces the rise of a broad and coordinated campaign, fueled by corporate cash and conservative state legislators, to strip workers in both public and private sectors of their rights.
Since Republicans gained full control of eleven state legislatures in the 2010 midterm elections, states have passed a series of bills modeled on legislation written by the American Legislative Exchange Council and promoted by employers’ groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Restaurant Association. Between 2011 and 2012, four states rolled back or limited the minimum wage, which has already fallen behind inflation and greater hikes in the cost of education and medical care. Four states eased restrictions on child labor, and sixteen made it more difficult for the unemployed to get benefits. Fourteen states restricted the collective bargaining rights of public employees, or their ability to collect “fair share” fees from workers choosing not to become union members.
“The most striking feature of the pattern of state legislation,” wrote Gorden Lafer, a political economist at the University of Oregon and the author of the report, “is the extent to which similar legislation has been introduced, in largely cookie-cutter fashion, in multiple legislatures across the country.”
Such legislation is neither locally inspired nor driven by economic necessity. “None of this comes from individual legislators,” Lafer said at a press conference today. “This is coordinated and national.” Corporate groups like the Koch brothers–funded Americans for Prosperity and the Club for Growth have poured money into state elections, helping to elect right-wing lawmakers who then peddle ALEC’s model bills, which incrementally shift the balance of power between employers and employees.
The results are wage and benefit cuts, poorer working conditions and fewer legal protections for all workers—unionized, nonunionized, public and private. Workers have lost overtime and sick leave. Others have been misclassified as independent contractors, losing unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation. While more than two-thirds of workers have some pay stolen from their paychecks each week by their employers, states have reduced support for the enforcement of wage laws.