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Corporate-Approved State Bills Kick Low-Wage Workers While They’re Down

Originally published at In These Times

President Obama called for a modest raise in the federal minimum wage to $9 in his State of the Union Address, and several Democratic legislators have upped his bid with a proposed increase to $10.10.

But an insidious effort to lower the wage floor is already underway much closer to the ground—in the state legislatures where right-wing lobbyists have been greasing the skids for years for an onslaught of anti-worker policies.

An extensive analysis recently published by labor advocacy organization the National Employment Law Project tracks more than 100 bills introduced in 31 states since January 2011 that “aim to repeal or weaken core wage standards at the state or local level.” Each bears the fingerprint of notorious super-lobbying organization the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which acts as a forum for “private sector leaders” to advise public officials. Most of the anti-worker bills were proposed by lawmakers directly linked to ALEC and include language that echoes that of “model legislation” developed by ALEC. Among the proposals are measures to undercut minimum wages for teenage workers, restrict overtime pay and repeal or ban local laws to improve working conditions.

ALEC has been called out by activists for pushing legislation that advances a classic right-wing agenda, from school privatization to rolling back healthcare reform. But the “wage suppression” tactics are a particularly callous attempt by ALEC-affiliated legislators to feed corporate profits by starving workers.

The wage-suppression laws are the latest strike in a war of attrition waged by ALEC and “private sector leaders” (as the organization calls them) against labor and workplace rights, aimed at forcing low-wage workers into even deeper economic insecurity.

While efforts to pass pro-worker policies in Washington have met with resistance, ALEC-sponsored bills seek to outlaw protections for workers at the state and local level, such as living wage ordinances and paid leave mandates. In several states, including Arizona, Connecticut, Maryland and Michigan, lawmakers have introduced ALEC-associated legislation to preempt prevailing wage laws, which ensure workers receive relatively fair wages in government-contracted work, including the public infrastructure projects that fuel local construction sectors.

NELP points out that only a minority of these bills have actually been enacted, but the sheer volume of anti-worker legislative proposals is nonetheless alarming at a time when the labor movement, which has traditionally struggled to beat back pro-corporate legislation, is weaker than ever.

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