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.
Like several countries in the European Union, conservatives in the U.S. states promised that slashing government spending would fuel economic growth. Thirty states have responded to budget deficits by doing just that. At the same time, 20 U.S. states and a number of other European countries have taken the opposite approach, generating revenue and focusing additional spending on economic recovery. Just like in Europe, the states that chose austerity have been outpaced in job growth and economic recovery by the states that raised revenue to expand government spending.
The initial news last week was that the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act (ACA). And though that remains true, discussion has increasingly focused on the one limitation the Court put on the law. While the ACA required all states to expand Medicaid eligibility to 133% of the federal poverty level (FPL) – about $30,000 for a family of four – in order to receive any federal Medicaid funds, the Court ruled that only funds for the expansion itself could be withheld. The practical effect of the limitation was to make it optional for states to expand Medicaid to all Americans at or below 133% FPL.
In addition to the historic Supreme Court decisions on health care and immigration handed down last week, the Court also ruled recently on several important, elections-related cases as well – decisions which constitute a mixed bag for the health of America’s democracy.
Immediately following today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, leading state legislators from across the nation are already pledging to continue implementing the provisions of the law as fully and quickly as possible, as the focus of health care reform once again returns to the states.
This morning, the Supreme Court handed down its decision on SB 1070, Arizona’s economically devastating anti-immigrant law. The Court struck down three of SB 1070’s four provisions and issued strong guidelines to limit the scope of Section 2(b), the only piece of the law that was upheld. Section 2(b), the racial profiling provision popularly known as “papers please,” continues to expose immigrants and communities of color to discrimination at the hands of law enforcement. Today’s decision assures future challenges to the provision and virtually ensures that it will not survive in the real world. As this decision gets returned to the lower courts to define the contours of the guidelines around the “papers please” section, other states should be increasingly wary of following Arizona’s economically destructive and divisive path.
Today, the Supreme Court voted in a 5-3 decision to strike down three provisions of Arizona’s controversial anti-immigrant SB 1070, while narrowly upholding a fourth part of the law that requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect may be undocumented. The decision sends a strong warning to states still considering similar anti-immigrant measures. Progressive States Network’s Director of Policy and Strategic Partnerships, Suman Raghunathan, issued the following statement following today’s ruling.
In this week’s Research Roundup: Recent reports from the Food Chain Workers Alliance on workers in the food production and food services industries, the Center for American Progress on the facts on minimum wage hikes and how austerity is hammering state economies, National Employment Law Project on Walmart’s domestic outsourcing, the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute on working parents’ lack of access to paid sick leave, Make the Road New York on small business support for a paid sick leave standard, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on some basic facts around state and local government workers, Immigration Policy Center on the Obama Administration’s new “deferred action” deportation policy, and a report from researchers at Occidental College and the University of Northern Iowa on the lack of support for most “job killer” allegations in the media.