Liberal groups critical of ALEC influencing laws, but not labor unions


POT MEET KETTLE: Several left-leaning groups have been highly critical of legislation drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, but don’t have any problems when unions influence laws that benefit Big Labor.

By Adam Tobias | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — Stand Up to ALEC and other affiliated left-leaning groups opposed to the American Legislative Exchange Council bringing together lawmakers and private-sector representatives to draft model state-level legislation apparently don’t have any issues when labor unions participate in almost identical practices.

A number of “living wage” laws being passed across the country — including the one in Milwaukee County — have been heavily influenced by Big Labor and are designed to generate revenue for unions through provisions that exempt companies from paying the increased wages if they force full unionization.

“I think it’s very rich for the unions to criticize people for doing the exact same things they do,” James Sherk, a senior policy analyst in labor economics for the Heritage Foundation, told Wisconsin Reporter.

Jane Carter, a labor economist with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said during a telephone press conference on Monday that what unions are doing is different because corporations associated with ALEC are spending tens of thousands of dollars behind closed doors on bills that benefit the rich and hurt economic growth and the middle class.

But Milwaukee County’s living wage law is expected to cost taxpayers there almost $30 million by the end of 2019 and possibly shut down the Milwaukee County Department of Family Care, according to a fiscal analysis by the county’s nonpartisan comptroller’s office. The ordinance was written by Service Employees International Union officials and County Supervisor David Bowen, who has received numerous campaign contributions and political endorsements from SEIU agencies and individuals.

SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin could gain an additional $300,000 a year from Supportive Homecare Options alone if that firm obligates all its employees to join the union. But then workers with that Wauwatosa company would actually be making less because they would keep the same wages while having to pay union dues and initiation fees.

ALEC, a nonprofit organization consisting of state legislators and private business representatives working on laws that advance the fundamental principles of free-market and limited government, only has voluntary membership fees.

“(Unions) are private organizations so they have the right to do what they want, but I think there should be a degree of volunteerism,” Sherk said. “If workers don’t want to support the union agenda, they shouldn’t be required to pay $500 to $1,000 a year in order to have their money then get turned around and spent promoting left-wing causes that, in many cases, the workers may not agree with.”

About half of all U.S. states allow public-sector union contracts to require mandatory dues as a condition of employment, learned while reviewing U.S. Department of Labor records, state labor laws and a National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation study from 2012.

Many of those states and local governments automatically deduct those taxpayer-funded fees, which are given directly to labor bosses. Some of that money is used on attacks against ALEC, according to Sherk.

But Carter contends the fight against ALEC is necessary because ALEC-backed legislation is having a dramatic effect on state budgets and middle-class families, including those in Wisconsin.

Carter claims the policies of Republican Gov. Scott Walker have led to a $471 million budget deficit next year and also hindered his 2010 campaign pledge to create 250,000 new private-sector jobs by 2015.

But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, argues the state Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s estimate for next year’s budget assumes no revenue growth or change in expenditures.

Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Finance, also say the 2014 budget is beginning with a $443 million surplus.

While Wisconsin hasn’t created the full 250,000 jobs since Walker took office, the state has still has seen more than 100,000 new jobs. Under the last term of former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, who had gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke serve as one of his secretaries of commerce, Wisconsin lost almost 134,000 jobs.

But it’s no wonder Carter didn’t mention those numbers.

Her boss, AFSCME President Lee Saunders, has said his labor organization has a “score to settle” with Walker this election because the governor “took collective bargaining away from us.”

Walker’s signature Act 10, which passed in 2011, ended forced unionization for most public-sector employees and has saved state taxpayers nearly $3 billion.

Meanwhile, AFSCME has lost 70 percent of its membership in Wisconsin.

Participants in Monday’s press conference, organized by Stand Up to ALEC, also included the progressive Center for Media and Democracy, Common Cause and Forecast the Facts. AFSCME was the only agency that offered to answer Wisconsin Reporter’s questions about the similarities between ALEC and labor unions.