Like a deadly disease mutating into an even deadlier form, the national anti-labor “Right-to-Work” campaign has mutated in a new, more sinister direction.
Quietly, the American City County Exchange (ACCE) –– an initiative of the Radical Right arch-conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) –– has begun working to pass right-to-work laws at the city and county level.
Or at least that appears to be its public goal.
A review by the Labor Tribune of the group’s initial efforts clearly indicates a new right-wing strategy, one where Right-to-Work backers, whether they win or lose at the local level, expect legal challenges from the losing side that will ultimately get the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court.
So-called “Right to Work” laws allow workers covered by union contracts to avoid paying their fair share of the costs of representation, yet still enjoy the benefits of the contract. Union opponents have advanced such laws since the 1940s as a way to weaken unions.
The legal challenges, funded by the National Right To Work Foundation or the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation, will wind up before what one reporter called “the corporate-friendly U.S. Supreme Court.”
Until now, ALEC has contented itself with providing template anti-union legislation for captive state lawmakers – all of them Republicans -- to submit as their own to try to cripple workers’ rights and collective power at the state level. Missouri is one state where ALEC is extremely active. The failed RTW bill in this year’s legislative session was one of ALEC’s cookie-cutter bills.
The Right's new approach bypasses statewide efforts –– usually expensive, time- consuming and highly visible in statewide media –– in favor of enacting boilerplate bills in local cities, towns, villages and counties where the effort is far less expensive, the influence of radical right-wing corporations and politicians is easier to exert and where publicity is often at a much lower level.
ACCE has chosen two routes to travel in its targeted cities and towns: An initiative petition, if it’s allowed by state law, or passing a local ordinance through the city council.
That strategy didn't work in three Washington state cities. Aroused unionists and residents pushed two city councils to unanimously defeat the RTW ordinances. The city attorney in one, Sequim, called the ordinances patently illegal. In GOP-dominated Chilton the petition drive flopped. It didn't get enough signatures.
Legal experts call such town-by-town RTW efforts illegal. The common understanding is that the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, allows only states to enact RTW laws.
That has not deterred the ACCE. Heritage Foundation legal scholar Andrew Kloster, speaking at a recent foundation forum, said the issue is simply not mentioned in Taft-Hartley, leading most to assume that Congress meant for only states to have that right.
And whether it’s legal may not matter. Win or lose at the local level, ACCE’s strategy is to prompt lawsuits –– at great expense to city and county councils –– with the ultimate goal of getting the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Besides the failed efforts in Washington State, ACCE is also targeting cities and towns in Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and New Mexico. All are worker-friendly states that do not have an anti-worker, anti-union RTW law.
Reporter David Groves of the Washington State Stand said, “The city-by-city campaign against unions mirrors the new strategy of ALEC: To attack unions at the city and local level.”
Groves goes on to note: “The conservative Heritage Foundation just released a report urging that localities should 'experiment' with local Right-to-Work ordinances in an attempt to set up legal challenges that could go all the way to the corporate-friendly U.S. Supreme Court.
“Legal costs for the cities targeted by the Freedom Foundation” – another Right Wing driver of RTW bills – are already beginning to mount and could go much higher,” Groves notes
In an article in the Washington Examiner, ACCE director Jon Russell, while conceding there is little legal evidence supporting the group’s argument that cities and counties can pass such laws, notes that there is virtually no case law on the subject.
Thus ALEC’s/ACCE’s “get it up to the Supreme Court” strategy begins to take shape.
The Washington State Labor Council reports: “At ALEC’s 2014 spring meeting, Utah State Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Salt Lake City, called for diminishing local control of politics. He said, ‘School boards and city councils take away liberties quicker than the federal government. Local governing entities can be a roadblock to the ALEC agenda, so their power needs to be preempted and removed.’”
The Washington Council notes the Freedom Foundation, an Olympia, Wash.-based conservative organization with close ties to ALEC, “uses words like ‘transparency’ and ‘choice,’ but they hide the fact that they are funded by out of state billionaires and their agenda is straight out of the corporate playbook. They could not pass these ideas on a statewide level, so they are trying to destroy workers’ rights on a city-by-city level.”
ALEC's new Right-to-Work attack at the local level appears to have a secondary and perhaps more revealing purpose, according the U.S. edition of the Guardian: Fundraising. That's because ALEC took a major financial hit for promoting Florida’s “stand your ground” law as one of its cookie-cutter proposals.
In the negative backlash following the 2012 shooting death of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, many corporations withdrew financial support from ALEC -- enough that apparently it’s feeling the financial strain. “Extension of its techniques to city councils and municipalities across America offers ALEC the chance to open up a potential source of funding that might help it solve its budgetary crisis,” the Guardian reported. “There are almost 500,000 local elected officials, many with considerable powers over schools and local services that could be attractive to big business.
“ALEC makes the appeal to corporations explicit in its funding material for the new ACCE. Its literature offers companies ‘founders committee’ status in return for $25,000 a year and ‘council committee’ membership for $10,000.
“By joining ACCE’s council committee, corporate lobbyists can participate in policy development and network with other entrepreneurs and municipal officials from around the country,” the Right Wing group boasts. “In committee meetings, lobbyists will be allowed to ‘present facts and opinions for discussion’ and introduce resolutions for new policies that they want to see implemented in a city. At the end of such meetings, the elected officials present in the room will take a vote before returning to their respective council chambers armed with new legislative proposals.”
Nick Surgey, of the Center for Media and Democracy, which monitors ALEC, told the Guardian: “It just wouldn’t be possible for any corporation to effectively lobby the hundreds of thousands of local elected officials in the U.S., which until now has left our local mayors and school board members largely free from the grasps of coordinated lobbyists. ALEC is now trying to change that.”
The Guardian story concludes: “One of the main criticisms that have been leveled against ALEC is that its influence distorts the democratic process by giving corporations a handle over lawmaking. Similar fears are now being expressed about the intentions of ACCE in American cities.”