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New Report Highlights Attacks on Wages and Labor Standards

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A new report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) documents an unprecedented series of legislative initiatives in 2011 and 2012 that aimed to undermine worker rights and lower labor standards for both union and nonunion workers.

The author of the EPI report, University of Oregon Associate Professor Gordon Lafer, shows how similar bills were advanced in multiple states, showing the extent to which these proposals were driven by corporate lobbying groups, in particular the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Lafer notes that proponents of anti-union legislation portrayed themselves as defenders of nonunion workers, attempting to pit union and nonunion workers against each other. However, many of the supporters of legislation undermining unions also promoted legislation that aimed to undermine labor standards for nonunion workers. Attacks on both union and nonunion workers often were coordinated by corporate-funded lobbying organizations such as ALEC.

Proposals to undermine worker rights and lower labor standards for nonunion workers  in 2011–2012 include the following:

  • Four states passed laws restricting the minimum wage.
  • Four states lifted restrictions on child labor.
  • Sixteen states imposed new limits on benefits for the unemployed.
  • States also passed laws stripping workers of overtime rights; repealing or restricting rights to sick leave; undermining workplace safety protections; and making it harder to sue one’s employer for race or sex discrimination.

More widely publicized legislative proposals that aimed to undermine worker rights and lower labor standards for union workers include the following:

  • Fifteen states passed laws restricting public employees’ collective bargaining rights, or the ability to collect “fair share” dues through payroll deductions.
  • Nineteen states introduced “right to work” bills.
  • Two states enacted “right to work” legislation.

Not all of the legislative initiatives documented by Lafer were successful, but they offer important evidence about the agenda and objectives of corporate-funded lobbying organizations such as ALEC.

More recently, working families have been fighting back and the tide has started to turn against the corporate lobbyists. To find out how, check out “10 Ways Working Families are 'Kicking Ass' for the Middle Class.”

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