PSN 2012 Workers' Rights Session Roundup

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PSN 2012 Workers’ Rights Session Roundup: Surviving Another Round of Attacks… and Bracing for 2013

Workers' Rights   *   Tim Judson

(With legislative sessions largely adjourned in statehouses across the nation, this is the second in a series of issue-specific session roundups from Progressive States Network highlighting trends in different policy areas across the fifty states. Read the full session roundup here.)

An historic wave of attacks on workers that defined 2011 state legislative sessions largely continued this year. But just as significantly, widespread efforts to advance basic labor standards — especially the minimum wage — gained momentum this year by harnessing the country’s concerns about economic security and inequality.

2012 opened with another weeks-long standoff in the Midwest, which threatened to steal the limelight as the Super Bowl took place just a mile away from the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis, and ended in a major loss for workers in the state. Significant rollbacks occurred in several more states, as did high-profile attacks that are expected to return in 2013. The recall election victory of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was also a major disappointment for labor, though a labor-backed candidate did win another state Senate recall, flipping control of that chamber in the Wisconsin legislature. However, compared to Indiana, other major efforts to roll back labor standards in the states saw more successful resistance, and the ferocity with which conservatives pressed them was turned down a bit after the battle in the Hoosier state.

In addition, as Congress and many statehouses proved increasingly difficult venues for addressing workplace abuses, 2012 saw more and more advocates turning to local governments to advance policies like paid sick leave and wage theft prevention. This has in turn opened up another front for statehouse attacks, with some states seeing bills introduced that would strip municipal governments of their power to protect workers. State legislatures seem likely to remain the critical arenas for advancing and protecting workers’ rights in the near future, with state policy fights set to both influence national trends and control the pace of change workers can achieve at the local level for years to come.  [Read More]

Minimum Wage and Paid Sick Days in 2012: Moving the Debate

Bills to raise the minimum wage were introduced in seventeen states this year. Though Rhode Island was the only one (as of July) to enact an increase, vigorous efforts by legislative leaders in Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, and New York met with large groundswells of support and sharpened the debate over what government can do to address rising inequality and rebuild the economy on a stronger footing.

Bills guaranteeing access to paid sick days have now been introduced in nine states and a growing number of cities, with Hawaii and Massachusetts leading the way among states. Both saw rejuvenated campaigns and substantial progress in 2012, overcoming major opposition by business lobbies and laying the groundwork for next year.

Though states focused primarily on minimum wage issues this year, advances to protect workers from wage theft bode well for next year’s efforts. Some of the biggest victories in wage theft this year took place in an unexpected state — Louisiana, where legislators of all political stripes rallied to protect workers’ rights. Thanks to this year’s progress, temporary workers are now protected from misclassification — the first law of its kind in the state. [Read More]

Conservatives Maintain Attacks on Low-Wage Workers

This momentum is in stark contrast to a number of state attacks on minimum wage laws and other basic labor standards. Maine won the prize this year, enacting four laws that chip away at the minimum wage law in various ways. The highest profile attacks were in Florida and Arizona, though.  For the second year in a row, Florida business lobbyists pushed a bill preempting local governments from passing wage theft laws — even though the state has no Department of Labor to provide enforcement, and the state Attorney General has failed to bring a single case of wage theft in years.  In Arizona, conservatives tried attacking the state’s minimum wage law, later abandoning the attempt and changing the language of the bill entirely. [Read More]

Exploiting the Recession to Attack the Middle Class

In 2011, unprecedented efforts to repeal collective bargaining rights were highly successful, and the damage done to public employees and their unions will be felt for years to come. However, attacks on teachers and public employees’ pensions were even more successful than those on collective bargaining. 

Bills Introduced and Passed in 2012 Sessions

Overall, anti-worker measures were enacted at a somewhat lower rate this year, but they were no less broad in scope than in 2011. [Read More]

No Love Lost in More Attacks on Public and Private Sector Unions

Indiana conservatives opened their session in January by breaking a truce negotiated last year, re-introducing a so-called “Right-to-Work for Less” (RTW) bill. Efforts to advance the legislation in 2011 resulted in a month-long shutdown of the legislature. This year, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and legislative leaders rammed the bill through both chambers by the end of January.

In other notable rollbacks on state employees, Maine and Michigan stripped collective bargaining rights from child care workers and graduate students, respectively. North Carolina and Michigan passed laws barring the collection of union dues through payroll deductions. Arizona enacted legislation  undermining government integrity, weakening the civil service system and opening up state government to cronyism and political influence. And Louisiana enacted a “back door voucher” law granting corporations and individuals a tax rebate for donating money to private schools’ scholarship funds.

New York and Virginia followed Rhode Island’s example by enacting wide-ranging pension reforms, that will reduce the retirement savings of future state workers, many of whom are not covered by Social Security. [Read More]

Research Roundup: ALEC Economic Rankings Debunked, Big Business and the Minimum Wage, and More


Reports by the Iowa Policy Project on why ALEC’s economic policy recommendations are the wrong prescription for state prosperity, In The Public Interest on ALEC’s privatization agenda, the National Employment Law Project on big business, corporate profits, and the minimum wage, the State Budget Crisis Task Force on structural fiscal threats to the states, the National Regulatory Research Institute on the status of telecommunications deregulation legislation in 2012, the Commonwealth Fund on the status of state actions to establish health exchanges, The Sentencing Project on the extent of felon disenfranchisement in different states, the National Institute on Retirement Security on the role of defined benefit pensions in reducing economic hardships among older households, and Citizens for Tax Justice on the state-by-state effects of tax breaks for 13 million working families at stake in the federal tax debate.

The Doctor is Out to Lunch: ALEC’s Recommendations Wrong Prescription for State Prosperity — The policy prescriptions of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are not a recipe for growth and prosperity — if anything, they are the opposite. That’s the conclusion of this brief by Peter S. Fisher, Research Director of the Iowa Policy Project, which takes a look at the yearly ALEC-Laffer Economic Outlook rankings and judges their validity against the same performance measures they themselves rely on. Taking a look at ALEC’s 2007 rankings and each state’s economic performance in the years since, the analysis finds that there is “virtually no relation” between a state’s ranking and the growth in GDP, while for other measures such as job growth, the correlation was stronger — but in the wrong direction. “The more a state’s policies mirrored the ALEC low-tax, regressive taxation, limited government agenda, the lower the state’s per capita income and median family income throughout the period 2007-2010, and the higher the poverty rate,” writes the author, adding that the numbers show ALEC’s state economic rankings to be “a recipe for economic inequality, low wages, and stagnant incomes that at the same time deprive state and local governments of the revenue needed to maintain the public infrastructure and education systems that are the underpinnings of long term economic growth.”

Profiting from Public Dollars: ALEC’s Privatization AgendaIn The Public Interest published this brief outlining the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and their corporate backers in promoting costly state privatization efforts in many different sectors through model bills that “have the potential to generate lucrative sources of revenue for ALEC’s corporate sponsors.” The agenda of a number of ALEC task forces are explored, including efforts to make it easier for companies to influence outcomes of privatization proposals, to encourage states to contract with companies to provide “virtual” schools that would be recognized as public schools, to incentivize states to privatize vital health programs, and to force state governments to sell off public prisons to private for-profit corporations. The brief summarizes some highlights from a forthcoming In The Public Interest report, “Profiting from Public Dollars: How ALEC and its members promote privatization of government services and assets.”

Big Business, Corporate Profits, and the Minimum Wage — This data brief by the National Employment Law Project takes a look at the connection between skyrocketing corporate profits and stagnating wages for workers earning at or near the minimum wage, finding that “the majority of America’s lowest‐paid workers are employed by large corporations, not small businesses, and that most of the largest low‐wage employers have recovered from the recession and are in a strong financial position.” Among the report’s specific conclusions are that: 66 percent of low‐wage workers are employed by large corporations with over 100 employees, 92 percent of the largest 50 employers of low-wage workers had largely recovered from the recession and were profitable last year, and the average compensation for top executives at these companies was an astonishing $9.4 million, while the companies had returned $174.8 billion to shareholders in dividends or share buybacks over the past five years.

Report of the State Budget Crisis Task Force — This extensive report from the State Budget Crisis Task Force, a group co-chaired by former New York Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, examines current and future fiscal threats to six large states (California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Virginia) and concludes that there are “persistent and growing structural deficits in many states which threaten their fiscal sustainability.” Among the major threats identified are growth in Medicaid spending, the underfunding of retirement programs, eroding and volatile tax bases, spending cuts and the focus on deficit reduction at the federal level, and fiscal stress in local governments. While the report mostly stays away from making recommendations on tax structures, the co-chairs of the task force strongly note that it is their view that “the existing trajectory of state spending, taxation, and administrative practices cannot be sustained,” and that “the basic problem is not cyclical. It is structural.”

The Year in Review: The Status of Telecommunications Deregulation in 2012 — A 2012 year in review report by the National Regulatory Research Institute rounds up the state telecommunications deregulation legislation enacted between 2010 and 2012, highlighting some of the key provisions of the bills enacted into law. In that time, the report notes, 21 states enacted laws that limit what state public utility commissions can regulate, with nine of the states having “severely limited or completely eliminated Carriers of Last Resort obligations and the requirement that carriers provide a tariffed basic local service product.” The report also highlights that all of these states eliminated public utility commission oversight of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) other IP-enabled services, while, as of April, deregulation legislation was pending in an additional 14 states.

State Action to Establish Health Insurance Exchanges — This updated interactive map by the Commonwealth Fund allows users to quickly access information about the status of state action on the health insurance exchanges provided for under the Affordable Care Act. In all, as of July, sixteen states and Washington, D.C. had passed legislation or seen their governors issue an executive order establishing an exchange. Only eight states had indicated they plan not to pursue a state-run exchange, while another 24 are categorized as studying the establishment of an exchange or pursuing alternate options. This resource also details some key aspects of existing exchanges, state legislation, and executive orders for the sixteen states that have established exchanges.

State-Level Estimates of Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States, 2010The Sentencing Project published this report co-authored by professors at the University of Minnesota and New York University looking at the effect of state laws restricting voting rights for those convicted of felonies. According to the report, approximately 2.5 of the total voting age population in the United States is disenfranchised due to a current or former felony conviction — a number equal to 1 out of every 40 American adults. Other key findings in the report include that in six states (Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia) over 7 percent of the adult population is disenfranchised and that, nationally, 1 out of every 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised — including 23 percent of African American adults in Florida, 22 percent in Kentucky, and 20 percent in Virginia.

The Pension Factor 2012: The Role of Defined Benefit Pensions in Reducing Elder Economic Hardships — This new study from the National Institute on Retirement Security takes a look at households with defined benefit pension income and concludes that such income continues to “play a vital role in reducing the risk of poverty and material hardships among older Americans.” According to the report, poverty rates among older households lacking pension income were about nine times greater than the rates among older households with DB pension income in 2010 — a ratio that is up from six times greater in 2006. According to the report, governments saved by spending about $7.9 billion less on public assistance to older households because of this income. The analysis concludes that “households with lifetime pension income are far less likely to experience food, shelter, and health care hardship, and less reliant on public assistance,” and that “pensions are a factor in preventing middle class Americans from slipping into poverty during retirement.”

The Debate over Tax Cuts: It’s Not Just About the Rich: Tax Breaks for 13 Million Working Families with 26 Million Children Are Also at StakeCitizens for Tax Justice released this state-by-state analysis of the effects of the tax credits for working families with children that are set to expire at the end of 2012 — the child care tax credit and the expansion of the earned income tax credit. These provisions would affect over 13 million working families, including 25.7 million children, in 2013. With Congress threatening to allow both of the provisions to expire, a total of $11.1 billion in tax savings is at stake — virtually all of which would go to families earning less than $50,000.

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Steps Forward

MI: Michigan ballot measure pushes right to unionize

AR: State Board of Health endorses Medicaid expansion

US: "UndocuBus" to travel though states with anti-immigrant laws

Steps Back

US: Voter ID laws could disenfranchise 5 million

FL: Governor Preaches Austerity, Spends Big On Frivolous Lawsuits

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