The massive wave of attacks on fire fighters and the entire labor movement that began following the 2010 mid-term elections did not just happen on its own.
The political weather — a frothy mix of economic anxiety and “blamestorming” — gave extreme right-wing legislators effective control of numerous state legislatures. Anti-labor conservatives saw the mid-term sweeps as a once-in-a-generation shot at remaking state government policy to benefit their corporate benefactors.
But making the legislative sausage takes a lot of time, especially for hundreds of rookie state lawmakers straight from the extreme right. But the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was prepared with literally hundreds of servings of plug-and-play model legislation these lawmakers could — and in many cases did — introduce and then ram through their legislatures.
ALEC is a politically ultra-conservative non-profit organization comprised of state lawmakers and corporate executives. Together they provide the leg work to create the legislation and then fully fund convention retreats.
Founded in 1973, ALEC has more than 2,000 legislative members from all 50 states, more than 85 members of Congress, 14 sitting governors and more than 300 private-sector members, prominent among them the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. The member list skews Republican by a factor of 10 to one.
In 2011, Republican governors and GOP-dominated legislatures introduced more than 500 anti-labor bills, many carbon copies of ALEC model legislation, all of them inspired by the group’s work. These proposals restricted collective bargaining, limited project labor agreements and shredded living wage laws and other labor standards.
In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker, a one-time ALEC member, introduced and rammed through a state law restricting public sector collective bargaining (excluding police and fire fighters). Now he faces a recall election for his efforts. Governor John Kasich in Ohio signed Senate Bill 5, also restricting collective bargaining, though that measure was crushed in November in a ballot initiative.
Paycheck protection bills were introduced in 15 states in 2011, though passed only in Alabama and Arizona.
ALEC’s anti-labor fingerprints can be found on legislation in several other states. While state-level progressive and labor organizations have sought to raise awareness of ALEC’s activities, the conservative juggernaut shows no signs of pausing in its goal of purchasing the political process and turning state government into a tool of the private sector.
In fact, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker traveled to Arizona last fall to address 1,000 members of the ultra-conservative Goldwater Institute on how they should attack unions. In January, state lawmakers introduced ALEC-modeled legislation to make public sector collective bargaining illegal and end payroll deductions for union dues.
Not to be outdone, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a Tea Party darling, vowed to drive unions out of her state during her state-of-the-state address, and looks likely to use ALEC legislation as her weapon of choice.
GOP lawmakers in New Hampshire already have introduced several anti-labor bills in the legislature, including measures eliminating automatic deductions of union dues from paychecks and restricting public employee collective bargaining.
In Indiana, Governor Mitch Daniels pushed Right-to-Work legislation through a state legislature that counts numerous lawmakers as ALEC members.
In Minnesota, Common Cause Minnesota, an election watchdog, recently reported that conservative state lawmakers have so far in 2012 introduced more than 60 pieces of ALEC-inspired legislation.
In Virginia, a recent investigation found that state lawmakers took numerous cues from ALEC in producing and pushing legislation. The Virginia General Assembly has since 2007 introduced at least 50 bills nearly identical to ALEC model legislation.
ALEC’s effort to hijack the political process in all 50 states is neither unique nor illegal. But its aggressive action to craft state legislation and then swiftly ram it through into law effectively eliminates any opportunity for citizens to participate or even understand the laws being created that also affect so much of their lives.
For more information about ALEC’s efforts to tilt the balance of power dramatically against workers, the Center of Media and Democracy has created a web site (www.alecexposed.org) that tracks every model bill the organization has spoon-fed to lawmakers.