Public employees and the middle class are under attack, but many are unaware that the source of this campaign is carefully coordinated, well financed and has been underway for many years.
Who’s behind this?
In 1968, because “conservatives were being killed politically” Joe Coors financed the founding of the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC to “supply witnesses for hearings and experts to privately brief senators and congressmen” on conservative policy. Its success provided the model for a network of state-based think tanks including the Mackinac Center.
The Mackinac Center
Widely quoted in the media as a free market think tank, the Mackinac Center’s research routinely reaches conservative conclusions for perceived policy problems. It recommends lower state and local taxes, reduced governmental services, private school vouchers (“universal tuition tax credits”) and the outlawing of public sector unions. It has most recently concentrated on legislation designed to lower union membership numbers. While helping to write a law increasing benefit costs to school employees, an email exchange between a legislator and a Mackinac Center director made the Center’s objectives clear:
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was founded shortly after the Heritage Foundation to draft model state legislation to benefit business interests. Among its founders was John Engler. ALEC brings together lobbyists from over 300 major corporations, with conservative legislators. As a result, an ALEC bill is introduced over 1,000 times every year.
These state laws benefit their sponsors bottom line: they undermine environmental regulations and deny climate change; support school privatization; undercut health care reform; defund unions and limit their political influence; restrain legislatures’ abilities to raise revenue through taxes; mandate strict election laws that disenfranchise voters; increase incarceration to benefit the private prison industry, and weaken gun laws, among many other subjects.
The recent shooting of Trayvon Martin led to the revelation that the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law was the result of a NRA-funded ALEC model law. Because of the public reaction to this and to ALEC-advanced voter suppression through voter ID laws, an increasing number of corporations have withdrawn their ALEC memberships, including:Coca-Cola PepsiCo Kraft Intuit Wendy’s Mars, Inc. Arizona Public Service Reed Elsevier American Traffic Solutions McDonald’s Yum Brands Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Blue Cross/Blue Shield
There have since been calls for ALEC to lose its tax exempt status.
The Koch Brothers
David and Charles have funded conservative and libertarian policy and advocacy groups in the United States. Since the 1980s the Koch foundations have given more than $100 million to vast numbers of such organizations, including the Heritage Foundation, ALEC and the Mackinac Center. More recently the Koch brothers founded Americans for Prosperity, which in turn helped launch the Tea Party movement.
David Koch once ran for Vice President advocating for abolition of Social Security, the FBI, the CIA and public schools.
Why Labor Unions?
In the 2010 elections, only 3 of the top 10 organizations funding elections were related to organized labor. All of the remaining 7 were funded by corporations. By attacking public sector unions and reducing or eliminating their ability to contribute to candidates, corporations would be the only significant source of campaign financing.
Crippling the ability of unions to represent their members, making it difficult to collect dues, reducing their ability to bargain and undermining the funding for their retirement, is intended to lower membership numbers and end unions’ ability to raise significant PAC dollars.
The Battle for Bargaining Rights in the Midwest
As a result of this behind the scenes work, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker succeeded in nearly eliminating all public sector collective bargaining in that state, as did Ohio Governor John Kasich. Walker now faces a recall election and Ohio voters have repealed the Kasich law.
In Michigan, the approach has been a “death by a thousand cuts:”
The Michigan plan
Increase the cost of benefits to school employees
- Taxed school employees’ retirement, increased contribution by 3%;
- Mandated a 20 percent health insurance premium cost;
- Further increased retirement contribution to 12% (SB 1040)
Cut school employee pay
- Cut school funding by $1 billion;
- Allow parents to take the school’s state funding to on-line schools (“cyber charters”);
- Gave Emergency Managers unlimited power to reduce salary and benefits and void contracts.
Reduce the ways the union can protect its members
- Gutted Tenure Act to prohibit only “arbitrary or capricious” dismissals;
- Removed seniority as a factor in layoff and recalls;
- Required that half of teacher evaluation be based on student performance
- Ended bargaining for retroactive insurance payments and step increases;
- Increased the teacher probationary period and made it easier to dismiss probationary teachers;
- Outlawed bargaining on teacher assignment, discipline or discharge
- Prohibit full time release work.
Make collecting dues much more difficult
- Ended payroll dues deduction for school employees;
- Pass Right to Work.
Kill the teacher’s union, move on to the other unions.
The Michigan Response
To defeat this plan, a coalition of “front-line teachers, first responders, construction workers, and clergy” known as Protect Working Families has launched a petition drive to amend the Michigan Constitution to establish a right to bargain collectively and to strengthen the middle class.
Every coalition member has pledged to contribute completed petitions toward the goal of collecting well over 330,000 valid signatures.
The proposed constitutional amendment would specifically:
- Establish the people’s rights to organize to form, join or assist unions and to bargain collectively regarding their wages, hours and other conditions of employment.
- Prohibit employers from retaliating against employees for exercising those rights.
- Prohibit politicians from interfering with those rights, and protect current laws establishing minimum wages, hours and working conditions.
- Authorize the state to restrict or prohibit public employee strikes.