Fighting Back Against The State Legislative Attacks On American Workers

American Workers Are Under Attack In State Legislatures

In recent years, right-wing state legislators across the country have been stepping up their work to enact an anti-worker agenda on behalf of powerful corporate interests. As explained in the Economic Policy Institute's recent report, “The Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011-2012,” these alarming legislative efforts are coordinated on a national scale, massively-funded, and insidiously effective. The wave of legislative proposals designed to undermine wages and labor standards, for union and non-union workers, included the following:

  • Four states passed laws restricting the minimum wage, four lifted restrictions on child labor, and 16 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.
  • Legislation has been pursued making it harder for employees to recover unpaid wages (i.e., wage theft) and banning local cities and counties from establishing minimum wages or rights to sick leave.
  • For the 93 percent of private-sector employees who have no union contract, laws on matters such as wages and sick time define employment standards and rights on the job. Thus, this agenda to undermine wages and working conditions is aimed primarily at non-union, private-sector employees.


  • Fifteen states passed laws restricting public employees’ collective bargaining rights or ability to collect “fair share” dues through payroll deductions.
  • Nineteen states introduced “right-to-work” bills, and “right-to-work” laws affecting private-sector collective bargaining agreements were enacted in Michigan and Indiana.

This anti-worker agenda is rolling back hard-won victories for American workers, private sector as well as public employees -- and the legislators are not doing it alone. As the EPI report identifies, the powerful players pushing this anti-worker agenda across the states reads like a Who's Who of the corporate lobbying world: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business, National Association of Manufacturers, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Tax Reform, and Americans for Prosperity (AFP).

A new exposé on the State Policy Network, a web of state-based and supposedly "independent" think tanks, further exposes the extent to which this right-wing infrastructure operates at the state level. With deep ties to the corporate-backed ALEC, AFP, and the Koch brothers, these member think tanks have become a major force in the states -- and often working under the radar to push for proposals long sought by their corporate and right-wing backers, including corporate tax cuts, restrictions on workers’ rights, repeal of minimum and living wage laws, and rollback of business regulations.

Who Funds SPN?

SPN has become an $83 million right-wing empire. SPN and its affiliates are not required to disclose their donors, and almost none of the groups publish a list of funders. Tax documents and other available records reveal that SPN is funded by large corporations, right-wing foundations, and wealthy conservative ideologues. Some of the most notable corporate funders of SPN and its web of “think tanks” include Big Tobacco companies (like Reynolds), Big Oil corporations (like the Koch family fortune), AT&T, Kraft Foods, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Facebook, and Microsoft. SPN and its “think tanks” are also largely funded by right-wing special interest groups and individuals, including the Koch brothers, the DeVos family, the Coors family (of Coors Brewing Company), the Walton Family Foundation (of Walmart), Richard Mellon ScaifeArt Pope, the Roe Foundation, and the Bradley Foundation.

Their broader agenda should be clear: corporate profits ahead of America's working families and the powerful, wealthy few instead of the American people as a whole. Ultimately, the economic security of millions of American workers, both union and non-union, is at stake -- critical labor standards and workplace protections.

Progressive Legislators Are Fighting Back & Going On Offense

On November 19, 2013, Progressive States Network is formally launching our 2014 legislative agenda for our Economic Security Working Group with the aim of convening and empowering state legislators to advance a shared progressive narrative and coordinated actions on economic issues.  Many of the legislators' initiatives will build on the achievements of PSN legislators, such as Florida Senator Dwight Bullard, who lived on the minimum wage for a week to raise public awareness, and Rhode Island Senator Gayle Goldin, who had co-sponsored a new law that creates a paid family leave insurance program. The Working Group will draw upon broader efforts and ideas generated within the context of regional and national movements as well.

To join the Economic Security Working Group, interested legislators can do so at this page.