Organized labor has been under attack for decades, with devastating results for the middle class. Wages have not kept up with inflation, even though American workers are the world’s most productive.
Worse yet, without a strong labor movement, both union and nonunion workers have no real avenue to compel employers to provide decent wages, affordable health care and retirement security. Workers may eventually be left at the mercy of corporations.
And that’s the way the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) wants it. ALEC, a shadowy organization of corporate lobbyists and (overwhelmingly Republican) lawmakers, purports to exemplify “Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty.”
It stands for unfettered corporate interference in the legislative process. It hosts all expenses-paid conferences with lawmakers — usually at swank resorts where the media and the average Joe and Jane are denied access — and crafts “model” legislation to further the goals of corporate America. Much of its legislation is pushed by lawmakers in statehouses around the country, usually word-for-word. Unsurprisingly, some of its largest contributors are the Koch Brothers, oil, pharmaceutical and tobacco giants and many other concerns that run roughshod over our democratic process.
According to ALEC Exposed, a group that monitors ALEC’s outsized influence on our democracy, here is a sample of the types of legislation it pushes:
■ “Right-to-work” bills that seek to destroy unions’ ability to represent workers by preventing dues collection for services such as grievance handling and collective bargaining. As unions decline, so does their ability to support working-family friendly candidates. A bipartisan alliance of Missouri state representatives recently defeated ALEC’s right-to-work legislation, after the same legislation was passed in Michigan and Indiana.
■ Tort “reform,” which makes it harder for citizens to sue large corporations when injured by dangerous products. Limits on damage awards do little to convince careless corporations to keep consumer safety in mind.
■ Private prisons, which are one reason for outrageously high incarceration rates in the United States. Our nation has about 5 percent of the world’s population, but one-quarter of the world’s prisoners, according to the International Center for Prison Studies. Americans are locked up for crimes that would rarely warrant a prison sentence elsewhere. Empty cots interfere with private prison profits.
■ Charter schools, destroying the quality of public education everywhere, not just in the inner cities. ALEC promotes the false narrative that America’s public schools are failing and educators (read union teachers) are to blame. Much like the effort to starve unions of funding, ALEC and other public school opponents seek to destroy public education by gradually defunding it. Investors in charter schools, rewarded with your tax dollars, are the only winners.
ALEC claims to be a 501(c)(3) exempt non-profit.
It maintains it merely reimburses public officials for their work on legislation — at high-end resorts where they are free to bring the family along for a vacation. It claims it isn’t lobbying, that its mission is “educational” in nature. The same corporate lobbyists are also responsible for millions in campaign donations to these lawmakers.
Americans are starting to catch on to ALEC.