The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), its corporate backers and extremist Missouri lawmakers may have won the first round in their drive to silence working people with a paycheck deception bill, when the House gave it final approval (86-69) earlier this week.
But thanks to a strong mobilization by Missouri working families and their unions and allies, the close vote—that included several Republicans who voted against the bill—means that Gov. Jay Nixon’s (D) expected veto cannot be overridden. It takes a two-thirds majority vote to override.
Paycheck deception laws, like the one proposed in Missouri, create burdensome restrictions that interfere with union members’ rights to participate in the political and legislative process. These laws also weaken the ability of working people to advance working-family issues such as legislation that would create jobs and stop job outsourcing.
After the bill’s passage, Mike Louis, secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO, told reporters:
This bill is all politics. Not one Missouri worker testified in favor of S.B. 29, and that’s because this bill has nothing to do with helping working people. Public workers in this state have faced an uphill fight for collective bargaining rights and are 50 in the nation in pay.
In fact, dozens of Show-Me State workers created a Tumblr blog, Working Voices, and recorded video messages speaking out against paycheck deception. Union, community and faith activists were a major presence at the state Capitol in Jefferson City during hearings and votes and helped shine a spotlight on the anti-workers’ legislation through actions in several cities and towns.
Bradley Harmon, the president of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 6355, said:
This law is about protecting right-wing extremists and their corporate buddies, not about protecting anyone’s paycheck. That’s why we call it ‘paycheck deception.’
The bills in the House and Senate are ALEC model bills, inspired by none other than Wisconsin union-buster Gov. Scott Walker. Quick story: In early 2011, Walker pushed and passed a preemption law in Wisconsin, completely invalidating the will of Milwaukee voters who had just passed a sick days ordinance.
All workers deserve the opportunity to earn paid sick days, so that not another person has to make their choice between going to work sick and not making rent, or not being able to eat, or not being able to care for their child.
But even the threat of workers in a few cities and towns having this basic right has the restaurant lobby and ALEC running scared, using their politician pawns to introduce ridiculously undemocratic preemption bills that won’t create a single job. Since when did these “small-government” obsessives get into the business of telling cities and towns how to conduct their business?
A new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows that two Missouri paycheck deception bills are not necessary to protect workers and they would limit the free speech and political spending of unions and organized workers, while allowing unlimited corporate spending on political causes.
Both federal and state laws already protect the political rights of private- and public-sector employees who join or are represented by unions. Paycheck deception supporters say their new bills are necessary to stop workers from being forced to pay to support a political cause they oppose, but current law already does that. S.B. 29 and H.B. 64, the bills in question, are not designed to enhance individual rights but instead make it harder for employees to authorize payroll deductions for union use—even if the uses are not political. And, the bills are designed to foster conflicts between workers and unions. Not surprisingly, the bills, supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Federation of Independent Business and the American Legislative Exchange Council, would do nothing to change the current legal prerogatives of corporations and their lobbyists to freely spend on politics without complying with any particular process whatsoever.
From the EPI report:
“These ‘paycheck protection’ proposals reflect corporate lobbies’ unabashed attempts to enact a broad corporate economic agenda by crippling the ability of workers to participate in the political process,” said Gordon Lafer of the EPI. “Because the labor movement is the only vehicle through which millions of working Americans collectively pool sufficient resources—in the form of both financial contributions and organized volunteer efforts—to serve as an effective political counterweight to this agenda, eliminating union political activity promises to leave the corporate lobbies with an increasingly free hand to shape economic policy at the expense of workers.”
When someone tries to raise the minimum wage, improve our health care system, or generally try to fix anything, a chorus of conservative anti-worker bigwigs cries foul about big government intruding in their lives.
But when a state passes a law to preempt cities and towns from making their own decisions about allowing workers to earn sick days, those same voices are silent.
Legislation recently approved by committees in the Republican-controlled House and Senate would prohibit counties, townships and cities from adopting policies that requires employers to provide paid or unpaid leave not required under federal or state law.
The bill is HB 4249 in the House, sponsored by Rep. Earl Poleski (R-Jackson), and SB 173 in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Mark Jansen (R-Grand Rapids). Both bills have been passed by their respective committees.
If you look closely at the bills, you’ll notice they are startlingly similar to bills introduced in Florida, Arizona, Indiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Washington.
Meeting attendees were given complete copies of Wisconsin’s 2011 Senate Bill 23 (now Wisconsin Act 16) as a model for state override. ALEC’s Labor and Business Regulation Subcommittee at the time was co-chaired by YUM! Brands, Inc., which owns Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.
As one Republican operative put it, these bills “deliver the kills shot” to efforts to allow workers to earn sick days. In addition to Wisconsin, such laws are already on the books in Louisiana and Mississippi.
The Walden Media film Won’t Back Down, starring Maggie Gyllenhall and Viola Davis, opens in theaters today. The film dramatizes a parent fighting to improve her child’s school, but it’s actually a dishonest Hollywood portrayal of the problems in our educational system – funded by the very people who want to privatize and profit from our schools. Here are ten reasons to skip it:
Won’t Back Down is “inept and bizarre.” Andrew O’Hehir, reviewing for Salon.com, writes that Won’t Back Down is “a set of right-wing anti-union talking points disguised (with limited success) as a mainstream motion-picture-type product.”
Won’t Back Down promotes an ALEC model bill. The film promotes the “parent trigger” law, an ALEC-created policy proposal that turns public schools into privately-run charter schools. ALEC also brought you Arizona’s draconian immigration law, Pennsylvania’s disenfranchising voter ID law, and Wisconsin’s union-busting Act 10.
Won’t Back Down is deeply deceptive. The “parent trigger” law promoted by the film has only been used twice in real life. Both instances have created “legal and community disasters,” writes Salon.com’s Alexander Zaitchik
I don’t recognize the teachers portrayed in this movie…The teachers I know are women and men who have devoted their lives to helping children learn and grow and reach their full potential. These women and men come in early, stay late to mentor and tutor students, coach sports teams, advise the student council, work through lunch breaks, purchase school supplies using money from their own pockets, and spend their evenings planning lessons, grading papers and talking to parents.
Won’t Back Down avoids the real issues. Writing in variety, Peter DeBruge points out the film is “grossly oversimplifying” education reform. Rather, it’s a “disingenuous pot-stirrer [that] plays to audiences’ emotions rather than their intelligence.”
Won’t Back Down is a “heavy handed lecture disguised as art.” Elizabeth Weitzman, reviewing for the New York Daily News, begins “I am neither anti-charter schools nor anti-union.” In the film, however, “the plot is just a clothesline on which to hang an unabashedly biased diatribe….Every so often they remember they’re writing a movie and not attending a debate, so they’ll shove in a rushed romance, or an out of nowhere personal revelation.”
Jamie [the film’s protagonist] leads the fictional takeover because her daughter, who is dyslexic, can’t read. Yet not a word is said in the movie about the need for more services and teachers for special needs kids…
Never mind those wonky details. The problem, we’re repeatedly led to believe, is the teachers’ union. But if unions were to blame for failing schools, wouldn’t unionized public schools in Princeton or Scarsdale also suck?
Hollywood hasn’t been known to let logic get in the way of a good story, and neither do education reformers.
Finally: Won’t Back Down isn’t your best option. Going to the movies this weekend? Try the musical comedy Pitch Perfect, the sci-fi thriller Looper, or, of course, this classic re-release about a brave teacher (well, archaeology professor).
The investigation revolves around Seminole County, Florida, and its Seminole Virtual Instruction program, provided by K12 Inc., a for-profit company that is the nation’s largest virtual school provider. A series of internal emails sent to Seminole County by a former K12 Inc. employee suggest the company tried to skirt state teacher certification rules to use less-qualified—and, in turn, less-compensated—teachers, according to the report, by John O’Connor and Trevor Aaronson. Those emails sparked the state’s investigation, the report said.
This investigation comes after years of K12 Inc. using its influence and enormous cash reserves (it made $522 million in profit last year) to push their mo del of for-profit education across the country, including states like Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
Earlier this year, the Michigan legislature sought to pass SB 619, a bill to lift the cap on the expansion of online charter schools, also known as “cyber schools.” The expansion of cyber schools would come at the expense of Michigan’s already cash-strapped public school system – with the potential to siphon as much as $7.2 billion away from public education. The bill was heavily pushed by K 12 Inc., a for-profit online school company and member corporation of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Working America and community members rallied against the bill, which ended up passing by only one vote.
In schools operated by K 12 Inc., students are receiving an inferior education, and dropping out at a higher rate. According to a study from the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) only 28 percent of K12 Inc. schools reporting meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards, and only half of parents intended to keep their children in a K12 Inc. school for more than two years. “Part of K12’s problem seems to be that it skimps on special education spending and employs few instructors, despite having lower overhead than brick-and-mortar schools,” said the NEPC Director Kevin Welner.
As we stand in solidarity with Chicago teachers striking for better schools for their students, we should remember that the attack on public education is broad, well-funded, and comes from multiple directions. K 12 Inc. is just part of the story.
Amgen is the 31st corporation to announce publicly that they are cutting ties with ALEC, the corporate-sponsored bill mill responsible for Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070, and attacks on workers’ and consumers’ rights across the country.
Another large medical company, Johnson & Johnson, announced it would end its ALEC affiliation in June 2012.
As Amgen Assistant Secretary and General Council Andrea Robinson responded to an inquiry from socially responsible shareholders and investors: “After careful consideration, we have determined not to renew our membership in ALEC when our current membership expires this year.”
One of my other identities is Alec Dubro, Policy Analyst, a fancy way of saying telecommunications blogger for Speed Matters. Last March I posted Telecoms quietly waging war on the right to a phone, which detailed the stealthy, but amazingly successful, lobbying campaign that AT&T and Verizon have been waging in statehouses across the country to end public regulation of landline phones.
Did you know that in at least four states you no longer have the right to have a phone installed in your house? And that number will grow.
Yesterday, we noted a report that detailed the extent of these lobbying efforts. Twenty states have ended or limited conditions on carriers, and 14 more states are considering it. The reason for this wave of deregulation, wrote professor and technology expert Susan Crawford, is changing technology, money and a lack of political resistance.
“…the phone companies,” said Crawford in Wired, “seeing how expensive it would be to upgrade their networks to fiber, are fleeing their copper wires and focusing entirely on wireless access – leaving the wired field almost entirely to essentially unregulated cable companies.”
So, rather than invest in American and improve landlines – which carry not just telephone, but broadband and TV – AT&T and Verizon have chosen to evade any civic responsibility. This hits rural America particularly hard, especially in areas where wireless is spotty and broadband speeds are already low.
And guess who’s helping AT&T and Verizon bulldoze their way through state legislatures? Why, my evil namesake and nemesis, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the tool of the right wing and the Koch Brothers.
For instance, in California, AT&T are pushing S.B. 1611 which, among other things, seeks to eliminate a provision of the California Code which ensures, “our universal service commitment by assuring the continued affordability and widespread availability of high-quality telecommunications services to all Californians.” In other words, if they don’t want to sell you a phone line – because you’re too remote, or live in a dodgy neighborhood – they don’t have to.
California does, of course, have a progressive tradition, but AT&T and ALEC are fighting hard. According to one pro-consumer blog, “there are at least 120 AT&T lobbyists working in the state capital Sacramento, one for every California lawmaker.” Plus, the bill’s chief sponsor is Rep. Alex Padilla (D-20th Senate District), who “has received more contributions from AT&T than from any other corporation in both the 2006 and 2010 elections.”
ALEC has distributed similar legislation around the country, and three bills appeared in the Northeastern states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. But, as Alternet reported:
“…a coalition, including the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the Working Families party, and the AARP managed to stop the bills, which would’ve resulted in cost hikes, lost jobs, and service cut-offs for “less profitable” customers—disproportionately senior, rural, or low-income customers who use basic phone service.”
So, if you want to keep that phone – or at least if you want your parents to keep it – spread the word and fight AT&T, Verizon and ALEC. (The other ALEC, not me.)
Hewlett Packard, CVS Caremark, John Deere, MillerCoors, and BestBuy made the decision to end their association with the secretive organization as more of their political activities have come to light. ALEC, which produces “model bills” to promote corporate interests nationwide, was involved in the creation of Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070, Scott Walker’s union-busting budget in Wisconsin, education privatization in Pennsylvania, and most infamously the Florida so-called “Stand Your Ground” gun law.
And those are just the tip of the iceberg. ALEC has operated nearly unchecked for almost 40 years. Its current membership includes hundreds of state legislators, and prominent alumni include dozens of members of Congress, from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to Vice Presidential-hopeful Senator Marco Rubio.
Whatever issue you care about, from health care and consumer protections to voting rights and the environment, ALEC has produced and passed a piece of legislation that impacts your life and your work – usually for the worse. And consumers aren’t standing for it anymore.
“Over the last few weeks, we have closely followed the issues surrounding the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and have heard from numerous stakeholders expressing their views,” wrote CVS Caremark Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Larry Burton in an email to ColorOfChange staff, “As a result, after careful consideration of the available information, CVS Caremark has discontinued its membership in ALEC.”
Despite these recent gains, ALEC membership still includes some of the world’s most powerful corporations, including Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Pfizer, State Farm, AT&T, and Altria (formerly Philip Morris). Legislators from every state in the country remain ALEC members and continue to push legislation developed specifically to advance corporate interests. But the more the public knows, the less they like about ALEC, and the less tolerance they have for its twisted vision of democracy.
The Republican-backed, corporate-funded war on voting rights took a hit today in Michigan. Governor Rick Snyder vetoed three voter suppression bills that had been passed by both houses of the legislature. His justification? He didn’t want to disenfranchise, even accidentally, any Michigan citizens.
The bills were:
House Bill 5061 – Requiring photo ID for first voter registration or to obtain an absentee ballot. Progressive and civil rights activists strongly opposed this bill as a way to disenfranchise low-income and minority prospective voters. “I am concerned (the bill) could create voter confusion among absentee voters,” Snyder said.
Senate Bill 754 – Instituting severe limits on third-party groups that want to register voters, like the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote. The measure is similar to one in Florida that was blocked by a federal judge.
Senate Bill 803 – Requiring residents to check off a box on their ballot affirming that they are U.S. citizens.
Karla Swift, the President of the Michigan State AFL-CIO and fellow critic of Snyder said in a statement:
Governor Snyder did the right thing today by vetoing a controversial package of laws designed to make access to the ballot box more difficult. This is a great day for all Michigan voters, and the labor movement commends the governor for standing up to extremists in his own party.
This is a dramatic departure from the policies of many of Snyder’s colleagues. Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan, Rick Scott of Florida, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania and several others were all elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010, and on many issues have acted with near coordination. Walker and his radical legislature passed a voter ID bill that is currently legally enjoined, and Scott’s voter purge in Florida and practical expulsion of voter registration groups has attracted widespread criticism. Many of these bills have been influenced or supported by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its member legislators (that is certainly the case in Pennsylvania). Governors and their allies are using easily disproven myths to justify these reactionary laws, passing them in state after state with little media attention.
So why is Snyder, a Republican governor in a state with top-down Republican control of state government, vetoing these bills?
Let’s get one thing clear: while we’re pleased with this particular action, this does not absolve Gov. Snyder of instituting other regressive, anti-worker, anti-democratic policies. This does not make him a “moderate” – we’re still talking about the man behind Public Act 4, the emergency financial manager law that allows the governor to effectively abolish local government and public contracts as he sees fit. The measure was just used to impose (not negotiate) an unfavorable contract on Detroit public school teachers.
But it does mean that the voter suppression issue has been exposed and made public such that Snyder – a consummate politician – didn’t want to be associated with it. And even as we fight Snyder and hits allies for Michiganders’ right to bargain collectively and control their own local governments, the crack in the Republican front in the war on voting rights is a victory unto itself.