It is fairly well-known among Americans paying the least bit of attention to conservatives and Republicans that their primary concern is enriching corporations and promoting their so-called “free-market capitalism” meme as the be all, end all solution to America’s economic woes. Part and parcel of free-market capitalism is removing all constraints from businesses whether it is environmental regulations or workplace protections for employees who drive corporate profits with their cheap labor and purchasing their cheap Chinese-made products. What is less well-known is that for 80 years Republicans have panted to eliminate New Deal provisions that protect workers and provide them with reasonably-safe working conditions including a 40-hour work week, safety inspections, and what Republican’s consider luxuries; bathroom and lunch breaks, overtime pay, and a woefully inadequate minimum wage. For the richest country in the history of the world, America offers its labor force some of the most meager benefits that the majority of develop countries consider downright pathetic, and if Republicans have their way, what few provisions American workers have now will be eliminated under the guise of advancing free market capitalism to put American labor on par with cheap peasant workers countries like China are renowned for.
The latest assault on American workers, like most assaults on the labor force, is courtesy of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and it is occurring in Florida where ALEC controls the governor and state legislature. At the urging of large corporate employers, and ALEC members, the Florida legislature passed and Governor Rick Scott signed, a pre-emptive law making it illegal to pass legislation to provide paid sick leave to employees. That’s right, a state law banning local governments from implementing paid sick leave legislation to protect corporate employers such as Disney World, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and perennial enemies of labor, the Florida chapter of the Chamber of Commerce who all whole-heartedly supported the Draconian measure.
The law is one of ALEC’s fill-in template bills being introduced across the nation and an effort to pass “preemption bills” that will block any prospective paid sick leave legislation as part of the corporate drive to keep measures helping workers off the books before they can be proposed or voted on by legislatures or the public. In Florida, more than 50,000 voters attempted to get a required paid sick leave measure on the 2012 ballot, but it was thrown off by Republicans on the county commission and it took a three-judge panel to have it included on the 2014 ballot. Now, regardless the voters’ wishes, the measure is moot and it is down to the state’s Republican House Majority Leader, Steve Precourt (R-ALEC), who pressed the measure through the legislature and it is no surprise Precourt is an active ALEC member.
The idea of passing laws in Republican-controlled states preemptively banning worker-friendly labor laws is not unique to Florida and nothing new coming from ALEC that is on a tear to destroy the democratic process for years. Since 2011, 67 similar ALEC-template bills have been introduced in states to weaken labor provisions and wages, and Scott is the twelfth governor to sign similar measures into law banning future laws that benefit workers and preventing voters from having a voice in how workers are treated. Other preemption bills have emerged in Wisconsin, Mississippi, and Michigan as part of Republicans’ efforts to create a slave-labor force rivaling Civil War-era plantations togive businesses, particularly big corporate businesses, a competitive edge over Chinese businesses’ slave labor force.
It is worth noting that claims by corporate-run businesses and ALEC member Precourt that Florida’s paid sick leave bill would drive up costs, like every corporate assertion regarding labor laws, is a lie. In fact, an oft-cited study of San Francisco that enacted a paid sick leave policy in 2007 revealed the “majority of businesses saw either no impact or a positive one on profitability,” and other research showed “such policies were both good for business and job growth.” However, decent benefits for workers contradict free market capitalist’s business model, and facts contradicting their phony excuse to create a slave-labor force are of no consequence. What is of consequence to American workers is an increase in the number of Republican measures being introduced and promoted to remove all labor laws regardless the industry or the deleterious effect on the workforce or the economy.
In Wisconsin, an ALEC member and state Sen. Glenn Grothman supported Scott Walker in repealing equal pay laws because “money is more important to men,” and “attributing everything to so-called bias in the workplace is just not true” even though women still earn 77-cents on the dollar compared to men performing the same job. In Washington State, three ALEC members are challenging an already passed paid sick leave law, and in Portland, Oregon and Philadelphia city councils considering paid sick leave ordinances are being challenged by ALEC members who have yet to preemptively ban legislation before it is enacted or voted on. It is not just Republican states assailing labor laws either and it is an ongoing attempt by GOP legislators’ effort to legislate workers into poverty.
Eric Cantor’s bill eliminating overtime pay passed the Republican House in May, and to assist poor people, Republicans want to abolish the minimum wage instead of raising it to lift the working poor out of poverty. There has been recurring suggestions that child labor laws be abolished, and Republicans have created hazardous workplace conditions by starving OSHA of much needed funding. The recent deadly chemical plant explosions in Texas and two in Louisiana, and West Virginia mine explosion may have been prevented if OSHA had inspected them, but the agency is so under-funded and under-staffed that they were not inspected for years. Some Republicans and the Koch brother CATO Institute promote abolishing OSHA altogether to create a more dangerous workplace for all industries and increase corporate profits, and it informs their disregard for American workers that goes beyond banning paid sick leave.
American workers are the some of the most productive in the world, and yet they are also the most underpaid and overworked for their level of productivity and it is getting worse. In most developed countries, workers get mandatory paid vacations, sick leave, healthcare, retirement pensions, and maternity leave without restrictions based on how long the employee is with a company. Republicans are dissatisfied with the pitiful conditions American workers are subjected to and have yearned for eighty years to abolish all of the New Deal’s protection whether it is overtime pay, a 40-hour workweek, safety measures, lunch breaks, or a living wage. Now, with ALEC’s templates in hand, Republicans are passing laws preemptively banning legislation to give workers paid sick leave and it will not be long before they pass laws prohibiting giving workers a minimum wage. Republicans and ALEC understand the American people support and demand pro-labor legislation, and will do anything to keep Americans working for poverty wages even if it means passing preemption bills banning future legislation. One wonders how long before ALEC creates a template to ban any and all future legislation, and based on their perpetual assault on democracy, it cannot be long in coming.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.