THE battles against anti-worker laws across the United States have turned to the ballot boxes and courtrooms, says the AFL-CIO union federation.
As voters go to the polls this week in high profile recall elections in Wisconsin, workers in other states and their lawyers will argue before judges that some anti-worker laws should be struck down.
In New Jersey, Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1033 filed a lawsuit last week over the failure by Governor Chris Christie to make payments to the state’s pension funds.
The suit claims that the failure by Christie and his predecessors to make payments to the funds violated a constitutional prohibition against the ‘impairment of contracts’, a lawyer for the union said.
Working men and women also are suing to stop new laws in Idaho.
One would prohibit project labour agreements (PLAs). These pre-hire agreements between labour and management require all construction jobs to be filled by local workers, include diversity requirements, establish wages and work rules covering overtime, working hours and dispute resolution, and ensure that safety guidelines on the job site are enforced.
They protect taxpayers by eliminating costly delays due to labour conflicts or shortages of skilled workers.
Also, the week before last in Boise, a federal judge blocked the new state law that was due to go into effect, saying that it conflicted with federal labour law.
The Idaho and the Southwest Idaho Building and Construction Trades Councils, AFL-CIO, filed a suit against the law that would have banned unions from subsidising workers’ wages to help union contractors win bids, a practice known as job targeting and permitted by the National Labour Relations Act (NLRA).
Here are some other lawsuits under way across the country:
• In Wisconsin, a broad coalition of union groups has filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Wisconsin’s new law restricting collective bargaining rights.
• In Michigan, citizens organised by the Sugar Law Center in Detroit filed suit against the state’s power to intervene in financially troubled municipalities and school districts.
The law, signed by Republican Governor Rick Snyder in March, allows the state to appoint emergency financial managers to take over ailing cities, towns and school districts in place of elected officials.
• In Ohio, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio announced last Thursday that it is prepared to file suit over a plan to require voters to show photo ID at the polls. Ohio House Bill 194 will require voters to produce state-issued photo identification in order to vote.
• The Indiana State Teachers Association has filed a lawsuit against a new statewide voucher programme.
Meanwhile, outrage over Georgia’s new anti-immigration law spilled into the plaza at the state Capitol in Atlanta on Saturday.
Hundreds of activists from labour, civil rights groups, and community and immigration advocacy organisations denounced the measure as an affront to human dignity.
The law ‘degrades people who work hard every day, pay taxes and want to do right by their families,’ declared AFSCME International Sec.-Treas. Lee A. Saunders. ‘It’s a hate law – plain and simple.’
Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton, president and founder of the National Action Network, also condemned the law, HB 87, which became effective on July 1.
Governor Nathan Deal (R) signed the measure into law in May.
Approximately 600 young AFSCME activists attending the federal and state employees union’s Next Wave Conference joined the demonstration, demanding that lawmakers focus on finding real solutions to Georgia’s problems rather than to pit groups against one another, and attack immigrant working families.
Earlier in the day, Saunders spoke to a Next Wavers conference about the challenges that face them.
‘Somebody’s got to confront these inequities,’ he said. ‘Somebody’s got to say, this land is our land too, and you can’t take it away!
‘Somebody’s got to say, we have fought too hard and too long to let you steal our rights and our dignity!
‘Somebody’s got to stand up and fight for the future! And it’s got to be us. It’s got to be AFSCME. It’s got to be Next Wave.’
The conference, which opened last Friday and ran through to Sunday, brought together AFSCME activists aged 35 and under.
They will help develop the next generation of AFSCME leaders by stepping up themselves and mentoring others.
AFSCME’s second Next Wave Conference addressed the needs of AFSCME’s young activists through workshops and sessions focusing on national attacks by right-wing governors, lawmakers and their corporate-backed sponsors.
They learned about strategies for fighting back and winning.
In a keynote address on Friday, AFSCME President McEntee noted: ‘This is the worst economy for any new generation of workers since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
‘Millions of workers under the age of 30 were put out of work when the recession hit.
‘Many more have joined their ranks. And instead of pulling together and focusing on creating jobs, too many politicians are spending their time dividing Americans.’
Rather than supporting the middle class, McEntee said ‘Wall Street and corporate interests’ who back right-wing politicians ‘are trying to take advantage of the economic crisis’ to attack public service workers.
‘That’s why they want to destroy our right to collective bargaining,’ he said.
Last Friday morning, conference attendees began their day with a tour of Atlanta’s civil rights landmarks, including the Dr Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.
Dr. King lost his life in 1968 while supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, members of AFSCME Local 1733.
The 1,300 workers recently were inducted into the US Department of Labour’s ‘Labour Hall of Fame’.
l In a statement on Friday’s June Jobs Report, AFSCME President McEntee said: ‘Today’s jobs report highlights the painful folly of a “cut-to-grow” philosophy now espoused by too many CEOs and elected officials at the state and national levels.
‘The loss of 39,000 jobs in the public sector almost obliterated the job gains in the private sector.
‘Nearly 600,000 public sector jobs have been lost since the so-called “end” of the recession, with only anaemic growth in the private sector.
‘For millions of Americans, the hard times have become agonising – and the “slash-and-burn” impact of the new state budgets will soon be felt by all.
‘Clearly, we cannot continue to cut our way out of this mess. The continued loss of public sector jobs means the loss of vital public services.
‘It also means businesses lose customers when lay-offs and other drastic measures have taken effect.
‘We need to plan for significant re-investment in our towns and cities.
‘Main Street Americans don’t think the recession has ended. This report proves they’re smarter than the economists who say it has.’
In a statement on Obama and Congress federal debt ceiling negotiations, McEntee added: ‘According to press reports, cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are under discussion as part of the debt ceiling negotiations.
‘The middle class and the poor did not create our fiscal situation, and they should not bear the brunt of resolving it.
‘Earlier decisions to enact unaffordable tax cuts should not result in cuts in Social Security payments for seniors and the disabled.
‘Two lengthy and expensive wars should not force billions of dollars in cuts to Medicaid, shifting costs to states and ultimately children, vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities. Bailouts for banks should not force cuts to Medicare.
‘The central focus of negotiators must be the need to create jobs and improve the economy. A healthy economy is the best deficit reduction strategy.’