Moral Low Ground


Anti-Union Wisconsin ‘Right to Work’ Bill Copied from ALEC Model Legislation

About 2,000 construction workers, electricians, carpenters and other union members rallied at the Wisconsin state Capitol on Tuesday, pushing back against a fast-tracked right-to-work bill backed by Republicans and Gov. Scott Walker. (AP screen grab)

About 2,000 construction workers, electricians, carpenters and other union members rallied at the Wisconsin state Capitol on Tuesday, pushing back against a fast-tracked right-to-work bill backed by Republicans and Gov. Scott Walker. (AP screen grab)

A progressive watchdog group has revealed that a Wisconsin anti-union bill backed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker was largely copied word-for-word from model legislation drafted by the conservative corporate lobby group ALEC.

The Madison, Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) published a side-by-side comparison of ALEC’s ‘Right to Work’ Act and the Wisconsin 2015 Right to Work Bill. Significant portions of both bills contain identical language.

ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, says it “works to advance limited government, free markets and federalism at the state level through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public.” But critics blast the group, which has been called a “dating service” for corporations and the politicians they fund, for re-writing laws to benefit powerful companies at the expense of the vast majority of the American public.

“This bill is word for word from the ALEC playbook, and that’s no surprise as the Wisconsin legislature is dominated by ALEC members,” CMD general counsel Brendan Fischer is quoted in the Guardian.

The ‘right to work’ bill is aimed at reducing union membership by ending requirements that workers have to pay dues in workplaces that are organized. Supporters claim the measure gives workers the freedom to choose whether or not to join unions.

Opponents point to US Labor Department statistics showing that “average wages across all industries in ‘right-to-work’ states [are] $4 per hour lower than those in non-right-to-work states,” and note that “one study determined that Wisconsin would see a net loss of between $3.89 and $4.82 billion annually in workers’ incomes.” Studies have shown that workers in ‘right-to-work’ states lose an average of $1,500 in annual wages due to such laws, which have been passed in 24 states.

Many unions, ranging from the blue collar United Food and Commercial Workers to the National Football League (NFL) Players Association, have come out against the Wisconsin bill. Every Democratic lawmaker in both houses of the Wisconsin legislature is expected to vote against the bill.

“Rather than creating economic uncertainty for Wisconsin families and small businesses, Republicans should focus their attention on boosting family wages, closing the skills gap and fixing the $2.2 billion budget crisis they created,” Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

About 2,000 construction workers, electricians, carpenters and other union members rallied at the Wisconsin state Capitol in Madison on Tuesday to protest the proposed legislation.

“The stakes are too high,” Tyrone Sutton, a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers in Kenosha, Wisconsin, told ThinkProgress. “We will not back down.”

But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), a former ALEC state chairman, says the anti-union measure has enough support to pass a legislative vote. If it does, Gov. Walker, who is increasingly viewed as a leading Republican presidential candidate in 2016, says he will sign it into law—after having previously opposed the bill.

“I’ve never said that I didn’t think it was a good idea. I’ve just questioned the timing in the past and whether it was right at that time,” Walker told the Journal Sentinel in a Friday interview at a National Governors Association meeting in Washington, DC.

On Monday, the Wisconsin ‘right to work’ bill was approved by a state Senate committee. A full vote will follow later this week; the state Assembly will take up the measure early in March.

Walker rose to national prominence largely as a result of an anti-union crusade which resulted in the loss of nearly all collective bargaining rights, as well as a pay cut, for members of Wisconsin’s public employee unions. The drastic measures in a state renowned for its progressivism sparked massive protests and an occupation of the state capitol building in the winter of 2011, which foreshadowed the global Occupy Wall Street movement of later that year.

In 2012, Walker easily survived a recall election resulting from widespread public outrage over his anti-union actions.

Today, Walker is a frontrunner among potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates. He is said to be the favorite potential presidential candidate of the multi-billionaire Koch brothers, who have pledged to spend nearly a billion dollars to elect conservative candidates in 2016. According to the results of a Quinnipiac University poll published on Wednesday, Walker leads all potential GOP candidates in the important state of Iowa, site of the first presidential caucus in January. His strong support for ALEC is seen as a virtue by many conservative voters, despite—or perhaps because of—the lobby group’s strong pro-business stances.

Recently, ALEC has drawn intense criticism for supporting a wide range of harmful or highly controversial laws, including so-called ‘stand your ground’ gun laws, voter identification laws which disenfranchise millions of Americans, telecommunications and utility deregulation, privatization of public education, ‘ag-gag’ laws criminalizing the recording and reporting of animal abuse, and ‘tough on crime’ legislation and prison privatization at the same time.

ALEC also staunchly opposes the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act, which has helped millions of Americans obtain health insurance, and is vehemently opposed to renewable energy, backing the environmentally devastating Keystone XL pipeline. The group has drafted model legislation claiming climate change may in fact be “beneficial.” It has also supported cigarette companies in their fight against proposed plain packaging laws.

Once a mighty force, dozens of leading US corporation have quit ALEC in recent years. Last September, Google withdrew, citing the group’s climate change denial and “lies.” It followed business titans including Microsoft, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Bank of America, McDonald’s, Walmart and IBM in severing ties with the pro-business lobbyist. In December, eBay became the 100th company to bail from ALEC.

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