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Two years later, however, it is clear that the attack on public employee unions has been part of a broader agenda aiming to cut wages and benefits and erode working conditions and legal protections for all workers—whether union or non-union, in the public and private sectors alike.
In fact, however, broadly similar legislation was proposed simultaneously in multiple states, whose fiscal conditions often had little in common.This report begins by examining the recent offensive aimed at public-sector unions in order to point out the tactics commonly employed by corporate lobbies such as ALEC and the Chamber of Commerce; it establishes that their agenda is driven by political strategies rather than fiscal necessities.The paper then examines the details of this agenda with respect to unionized public employees, non-unionized public employees, and unionized private-sector workers.By 2008, the number of laws that inspectors are responsible for enforcing had grown dramatically, but the number of inspectors per worker was less than one-tenth what it had been in 1941, with 141,000 workers for every federal enforcement agent.167 With the current staff of federal workplace investigators, the average employer has just a 0.001 percent chance of being investigated in a given year.168 That is, an employer would have to operate for 1,000 years to have even a 1 percent chance of being audited by Department of Labor inspectors.Budget cuts and political choices have exacerbated this crisis even further at the state level.As depicted in Figure A, in 20, 15 state legislatures passed laws restricting public employees’ collective bargaining rights or ability to collect “fair share” dues through payroll deductions (or, in one state, restricting the collective bargaining rights of private-sector employees who are nonetheless covered under state labor law).3 Beyond Wisconsin, for instance, collective bargaining rights were eliminated for Tennessee schoolteachers, Oklahoma municipal employees, graduate student research assistants in Michigan, and farm workers and child care providers in Maine.4 Michigan and Pennsylvania both created “emergency financial managers” authorized to void union contracts.
New Jersey’s and Minnesota’s legislatures both voted to limit public employees’ ability to bargain over health care.5 Ohio legislators adopted a law—later overturned by citizen referendum—largely imitating Wisconsin’s, prohibiting employees from bargaining over anything but wages, outlawing strikes, and doing away with the practice of binding arbitration (the only impartial means of settling a contract dispute without a right to strike) in favor of the state agencies’ right to set contract terms unilaterally.
Finally, the bulk of the report details the corporate-backed agenda for non-union, private-sector workers as concerns the minimum wage, wage theft, child labor, overtime, misclassification of employees as independent contractors, sick leave, workplace safety standards, meal breaks, employment discrimination, and unemployment insurance.
Before analyzing the legislative measures recently promoted to undermine U. wages and labor standards, it is useful to understand where the measures come from, and why they have appeared where they have.
A majority of states have reduced the number of staff dedicated to enforcement of wage and hour laws over the past five years.169 In some states, this has been a consequence of broader budget cuts, while in others, enforcement of workplace laws has been singled out for defunding.
Ohio’s General Assembly, for instance, voted to completely eliminate funding for labor inspectors in 2011, leaving no staff to enforce state minimum-wage, overtime, child labor, or prevailing wage laws.
Thus, the only means for seeking enforcement under current law is for employees to turn to the Legal Aid Society, which relies entirely on volunteer attorneys.179 In 2010, Miami-Dade County responded to this crisis by instituting the nation’s first broad municipal wage theft law.