This is part three in Veracity Stew’s ongoing series covering ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.
When you look at the many disparate “model bills” coming out of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council who held their annual meeting in New Orleans over the weekend, some of them might seem fairly harmless, because they cover all areas of law and every factor of every area. But when you begin to connect the dots, when you begin to look at them as a whole, you can see a very diabolical “big picture” emerging. And you can see that agenda hard at work through the efforts to abolish worker’s rights across the country from Wisconsin to Ohio to the FAA shutdown.
As we’ve seen so far, ALEC is all about privatization, and moving government services into the private sector. It’s no different with labor. In one bill, the Competitive Contracting of Public Services Act, it would be required of the government to conduct a “make or buy” analysis for all goods and services, which would, in essence, allow the private sector to undercut the government and force the awarding of contracts to the private sector:
The purpose of the bill is to require that each government entity (the state and any public bodies organized under the laws of the state) develop a competitive environment for the production of goods and services. […] A make or buy analysis would include the issuance of a request for proposal for the specified good or service, and the award of a contract to the lowest responsive and responsible proposer. The government entity would be required to observe proposal requirements as if it is a private company, submitting sealed proposals and employing true costing provisions (unless it chose not to compete for the good or service).
That might not seem like a big deal, and some might even think it’s a good idea as a means to bolster the private sector. But if there’s one thing we know, it’s that the corporate sector cannot be depended upon to police their own practices, and when coupled with the required repeal of the minimum and prevailing wage laws, which are required in state laws to ensure quality work is completed in the public interest, you can see the abuses just waiting to happen. The language of the Prevailing Wage Repeal Act reads as such:
This act repeals all laws that require administratively determined employee compensation rates, including wages, salaries and benefits.
In the Living Wage Mandate Preemption Act, they take another shot at wage requirements:
The Living Wage Mandate Preemption Act repeals any local “living wage” mandates, ordinances or laws enacted by political subdivisions of the state. It also prohibits political subdivisions from enacting laws establishing “living wage” mandates on private businesses, including those businesses that have service contracts with and/or receive financial assistance from such political subdivisions of state government.
So, even if you give these private companies a contract, you are barred from imposing any sort of regulations on them in regard to a fair wage, including the minimum wage. In the Resolution in Opposition to Any Increase in the Starting (Minimum) Wage, ALEC calls for the abolishment of a federally mandated fair starting wage:
The Resolution in Opposition to Any Increase in the Starting (Minimum) Wage recognizes that increasing the starting (minimum) wage is counterproductive. An increase in the starting wage makes it more difficult for employers to bring teenagers, entry-level workers, and others who need job experience, into the workforce where they can gain skills, training and confidence.
See what I mean by a diabolical big picture?
So, say you’re working for a company that’s able to operate with impunity under these laws, and you get fired. Well, also within their “model legislation” is the At-Will Employment Act, which would allow the employee or employer to terminate employment at any time, for any reason:
Under traditional “at will” employment, either the employee or employer can terminate the employment relationship at any time for any reason or no reason at all. Many courts and legislatures have modified this traditional relationship, sometimes even requiring an employer to show good cause before being able to terminate the employment relationship. The At-Will Employment Act stipulates that employment relationships shall be “at-will,” unless otherwise specified in an employment contract. The Act also restricts remedies available in the courts for discharged employees.
Some of this legislation has not been passed in areas of the country, so where are the corporations going to go to get their hands on cheap labor?
They go directly to jail and they still collect their $200.
In a damning article at The Nation, Mike Elk and Bob Sloan detail the use of prison labor by corporations as a means to cut costs and pocket profits. It’s a secret, shadow workforce that not many are aware of:
The breaded chicken patty your child bites into at school may have been made by a worker earning twenty cents an hour, not in a faraway country, but by a member of an invisible American workforce: prisoners. At the Union Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in Florida, inmates from a nearby lower-security prison manufacture tons of processed beef, chicken and pork for Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises (PRIDE), a privately held non-profit corporation that operates the state’s forty-one work programs.
Although a wide variety of goods have long been produced by state and federal prisoners for the US government—license plates are the classic example, with more recent contracts including everything from guided missile parts to the solar panels powering government buildings—prison labor for the private sector was legally barred for years, to avoid unfair competition with private companies. But this has changed thanks to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), its Prison Industries Act, and a little-known federal program known as PIE (the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program). While much has been written about prison labor in the past several years, these forces, which have driven its expansion, remain largely unknown.
As most of us know, the prison population in the United States is unparalleled around the world, and with the tightening of juvenile and drug laws across the country, the population of non-violent offenders has sky-rocketed. In the Shock Incarceration Act pushed by ALEC, it states:
This Act would allow courts the option of sentencing offenders who have not committed specified violent offenses, have never previously served time in an incarceration facility, and who are aged 17 to 25 to a 120-day sentence in a military-style boot camp. Consent of the participant would be required. The Act would also establish requirements of participants in the program and would stipulate the conditions that would result in expulsion. Participants expelled from the program would be required to serve their term of incarceration.
So, those who are thrown in jail for non-violent crimes, and those who haven’t committed “specific violent offenses,” are forced to serve their sentences and work for $0.20 an hour, thanks to the Prison Industries Act, which states:
This Act provides for the employment of inmate labor in state correctional institutions and in the private manufacturing of certain products under specific conditions, and includes limitations on how prison industries may impact non-prison industries within the state. The Act also sets forth the requirements and responsibilities of the state commission of corrections, the governor, and other officers and agencies in relation to inmate employment in correctional institutions and distribution of products and proceeds from inmate employment. The purpose of this Act is to reduce recidivism and reduce state prison costs.
Want your get-out-of-jail-free card? It’s going to cost you, because ALEC has that covered, too, as Elk and Sloan point out in their article:
More recently, ALEC has proposed innovative “solutions” to the overcrowding it helped create, such as privatizing the parole process through “the proven success of the private bail bond industry,” as it recommended in 2007. (The American Bail Coalition is an executive member of ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force.)
ALEC’s proposed Anti-Crime (Secured Release) Act reads thusly:
This Act requires that persons arrested for an offense other than a misdemeanor to be released by “secured release”, which is by cash deposit, secured bail bond, or real property. Persons may only be released on their own recognizance after a hearing in which the accused proves financial inability to obtain a “secured release”.
So what you have here is a push through this model legislation, working in tandem in several different areas of law, to abolish fair wages while tightening non-violent prison sentences, which in turn increases the prison population, which then increases a slave labor work force available to corporations without oversight, who are no longer required to pay a fair or decent wage to workers, and who are no longer regulated by ethical work practices.
And this is just one area where we can see the roll-out of their agenda: cheap, unregulated labor meant to maximize profits for their corporate coffers; slave labor prison camps for the sake of profit.
Read Part Two -
ALEC: Turning Education into Profit at Taxpayer Expense