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Rightwing ALEC Puts Wisconsin Anti-Labor Laws On May Agenda

Michigan's Koch-Funded Mackinac Center Is Bringing Wisconsin Act 10 Provisions to ALEC's spring meeting.

With the recent publication of additional American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) documents, new questions are being raised about the source of certain provisions in Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's controversial collective bargaining legislation. Some of those provisions may be adopted by ALEC for introduction in other states.

According to documents posted by good government organization Common Cause, the Koch-funded, Michigan-based think tank Mackinac Center for Public Policy will ask ALEC at its Spring Task Force Summit on May 11 in Charlotte, North Carolina to adopt as a "model bill" a proposal that strongly resembles sections of Governor Walker's Act 10. Those provisions, requiring that public employee unions recertify with a majority of eligible employees (rather than just a majority of those voting) and do so regularly, were considered some of the most onerous burdens on unions imposed by Act 10, and their source a subject of significant speculation.

The Act 10 provisions that the Mackinac Center will bring to ALEC were recently struck down by a federal court in Wisconsin. That court also rejected the law's prohibition on voluntary union dues deductions, which resembled already-existing ALEC model legislation.

Out-Of-State Influence on Act 10 

Many Wisconsin residents were blindsided in February 2011 when Governor Walker introduced his proposal to severely limit public sector collective bargaining. Walker never campaigned on union-busting, and one week before election day he even said he would negotiate with unions.

Walker's Act 10 went beyond requiring employees to contribute more to their healthcare and pensions (which actually was discussed during the election). The law made it nearly impossible for public sector unions to operate in the state by eliminating any opportunities for meaningful collective bargaining, making it more difficult for unions to collect dues, and requiring annual union recertification elections won by an absolute majority of employees, in addition to other changes. "A legislative enactment can always establish mandatory employee contributions for pension and health benefits," said former U.S. Solicitor of Labor and current Wisconsin Law School emeritus professor Carin Clauss, in an interview with CMD last February.  "If that is what the governor needs, he can get it without repealing the collective bargaining rights for state and local government employees." Act 10, she said, was "just an excuse to undermine labor relations."

This radical departure from longstanding labor traditions -- the American Federation of State, City and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) formed in 1932 in Madison, Wisconsin, and in 1959 the state was the first to codify public sector collective bargaining rights -- felt to many like it was imposed upon them, rather than being a Wisconsin response to Wisconsin issues. 

The inference that Act 10 came from somewhere other than Wisconsin was strengthened by several other states considering similar union-busting proposals. In a March 2011  blog post, University of Wisconsin history professor William Cronon posited one possible source for the anti-union bills simultaneously introduced in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, Indiana, and other states: the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Cronon's blog post received hundreds of thousands of hits, prompting the Wisconsin Republican Party to submit an open records request for the self-described political moderate's emails, a move widely perceived as an effort to harass and silence the professor. Paul Krugman of the New York Times wrote, "there’s a clear chilling effect when scholars know that they may face witch hunts whenever they say things the G.O.P. doesn’t like."

When the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) published over 800 previously-secret model bills at in July, the out-of-state corporate and ideological influence on elected officials in Wisconsin became more clear. Some provisions of Walker's Act 10 appeared influenced by the ALEC "Public Employer Payroll Deduction Policy Act," which prohibits automatic payroll deductions for union dues, and the "Public Employee Freedom Act," which declares that "an employee should be able to contract on their own terms" and "mandatory collective bargaining laws violate this freedom."