GOP Lawmaker Reveals ALEC-style Group Pushing Model Anti-Worker Bills

Co-authored by Eli Lee

Even as ALEC, the infamous bill-mill that produces right-wing model legislation for state lawmakers, hemorrhages corporate members and is discredited as a neutral voice in politics, other groups are adopting its tactics. PRA interviewed one conservative California lawmaker who said that SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, has begun using ALEC’s playbook to court lawmakers and push anti-worker policies.

Pictured left to right: CalSHRM Director-elect Patti Blosser, California Assemblyman Brian Jones (R-Santee), SHRM A-team Captain Hector Moncada and Mike Letizia, CalSHRM’s state director.

Pictured left to right: CalSHRM Director-elect Patti Blosser, California Assemblyman Brian Jones (R-Santee), SHRM A-team Captain Hector Moncada and Mike Letizia, CalSHRM’s state director.

SHRM, which PRA has reported on in recent months, has spent several years building a lobbying infrastructure on the state level, and—especially in California—it is seeing those efforts bear fruit in the form of close relationships with lawmakers and legislative victories over organized labor and workers’ rights.

SHRM deploys its full-time lobbyists and nationwide network of member lobbyists to push back against any expansion of the overtime laws that would ensure workers putting in more than 40 hours actually receive their due overtime pay. They’re also fighting against paid sick days laws (which have repeatedly been shown to have a low-cost public health benefit to employers, workers and communities), and against any expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). For example, in 2013, SHRM testified against a proposal in Pennsylvania that would have allowed workers to use unpaid FMLA leave to care for their ailing siblings as well as parents or children.

Now, it appears that SHRM is not only opposing workers’ rights, but it is also taking a page out of the ALEC playbook and beginning to use model bills.

California Assemblymember Brian Jones, a Republican from eastern San Diego County, spoke with us about how SHRM’s lobbyists are not only advocating for employer-friendly policies, but are actually offering legislation to lawmakers to change workplace rules to give employers more control over their employees. According to Jones, the association for human resources professionals engages in intense lobbying to try to tilt the public policy playing field more in employers’ favor.

“The first step is they contact my office, and they ask if I would be interested in sponsoring the legislation, and if I say yes, then we introduce the legislation,” says Jones.

“We change the language a little bit … we really tried to package it as an employee bill, so that it benefits employees, whereas previously it had been packaged as an employer bill.” -CA Assemblymember Brian Jones

According to Jones, in recent years these efforts have included working on a bill that would relax the overtime rules to allow for an”employee-selected” schedule of ten hours a day, four days per week instead of five eight-hour days.

Workers’ rights advocates have pointed to two types of problems that could arise from such legislation.The National Partnership for Women and Families cautioned that workers might be coerced into adopting this schedule, explaining that “employers would be able to implement this schedule without any obligation to pay overtime.” Teamsters Joint Council 7 of California agreed in a statement, saying that “This would allow an employer to circumvent the 8-hour day as long as an individual employee ‘voluntarily’ agrees to work more than 8 hours without overtime pay. We know how this would go in workplaces where workers are routinely exploited … everybody would be forced to work extra hours and nobody would be paid overtime.”

Another potential problem with AB 1038 was that it could introduce confusion about which workers are eligible to receive overtime pay, potentially undermining the more stringent federal laws governing the right to receive overtime. “We opposed it and so did the California Labor Federation and other unions,” said Jenya Cassidy, director of the California Work & Family Coalition. “It is what we in the work-family world call ‘bad flex’ because it is designed to chip away at overtime rights. A lot of employer groups support ‘flex’ that benefits employers more than workers.”

But with the help of Corporate Right lawmakers such as Jones, SHRM managed to spin this bill, deceptively called the Workplace Flexibility Act, as a boon to workers. Jones introduced the bill in its present form in 2012 and 2013, but it has yet to pass. Jones said that even before 2012, he and SHRM already had support from “the different pro-business associations” for the bill. “CalChamber—California Chamber of Commerce, they’re the big one, CMTA, the manufacturer’s association… a lot of the associations are helping out with it.”

Jones described how SHRM and lawmakers market such bills to Democrats and others in the CA legislature who may be more labor-friendly. “We change the language a little bit,” Jones says. “The main thing that we did in 2012, compared to prior attempts at the legislation, is we really tried to package it as an employee bill, so that it benefits employees, whereas previously it had been packaged as an employer bill. So that’s kind of how we were able to get more press this time and more notice from interest groups who hadn’t taken a look at it before.”

SHRM has recently taken a lead role nationally on other workplace policy issues, siding firmly with the employer community against workers’ right to unionize and earn overtime. As PRA reported in July, SHRM has pressured the Department of Labor to stop promulgating its new rule expanding overtime protections to a greater number of workers. And in California, according to Jones (who says he is a member of ALEC himself), SHRM is actively working the statehouse, promoting bills that would restrict workers’ rights and leave them open to employer abuses. “There’s lots of conversations that take place between their legislative director and my legislative director, on tactics and how we’re going to get it publicized, how we’re going to get it noticed by the members, who’s going to talk to which members about getting votes, and that sort of thing,” Jones said.

One may not think of a professional association for human resources specialists as having ALEC’s level of access to, and influence over, lawmakers. But, if California is indicative of how SHRM lobbies nationwide, SHRM does appear to be moving in that direction.


Eli Lee is a junior at Harvard University, currently studying history. He was a PRA research intern during the summer of 2015, investigating labor rights and economic justice.

Ted Cruz & ALEC: Seceding from the Union One Law at a Time

Ted Cruz tea party oath keepers flag

Tea Partiers, Tenthers, and the corporate sponsors who support them have come up with a variety of ways to circumvent the federal government and bypass the federal regulatory system, including efforts to hold an Article V Convention, commonly called a “Con Con,” to amend the Constitution and the Sen. Ted Cruz(R, TX)-developed plan for use of “interstate compacts” to block federal law.

In a report for the Center for American Progress, Ian Milhiser described these state’s rights efforts as a project for “seceding from the union one law at a time.”  These initiatives could result in a Balkanized confederation of states that would be no match against the power of international corporations and would allow for eliminating the regulatory system and the social safety net.

The most recent issue of The Public Eye magazine includes two extensive articles on the efforts of conservatives to shift power to the states, including Frederick Clarkson’s article on the State Policy Network’s growing influence, and my article on the growing nullification movement (co-authored by Frank Cocozzelli).

Nullification is based on a legal theory that states can block enforcement of federal laws individual states deem unconstitutional. But another route to “nullification” was popularized by Senator Cruz before he even became a senator, and promoted through Tea Party organizations and the highly-controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Ted Cruz was mentored at an early age through Rolland Storey’s Free Enterprise Education Center, where Cruz learned Austrian economics, read Cleon Skousen, and intensively drilled in delivering speeches. As an adult, Cruz joined the board of Storey’s Free Enterprise Institute, described as “forming conservative leaders since 1976.”  The board includes Leo Linbeck III and Chairman Emeritus Robert McNair, one of the co-founders of the “flat tax” organization Americans for Fair Taxation.

Ted Cruz was mentored at an early age through Rolland Storey’s Free Enterprise Education Center, where Cruz learned Austrian economics, read Cleon Skousen, and intensively drilled in delivering speeches. As an adult, Cruz joined the board of Storey’s Free Enterprise Institute, described as “forming conservative leaders since 1976.” The board includes Leo Linbeck III and Chairman Emeritus Robert McNair, one of the co-founders of the “flat tax” organization Americans for Fair Taxation.

Cruz’s idea is to use “interstate compacts” to shield states from federal laws. He developed the concept in 2010 as an alternative option for “nullifying Obamacare.” Just prior to his election as senator, Cruz worked as senior fellow with the Center for Tenth Amendment Studies at the Texas Public Policy Center, the state’s “free market” think tank and a State Policy Network member. While the concept of interstate compacts is not new, Cruz’s idea to use them as a strategy for shielding states from federal laws is uniquely original, which he freely admitted to Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard  in January 2011.

The Constitution, in Article I, Section 10, allows for states to form interstate compacts with the consent of Congress.  This is most commonly done to oversee shared resources, such as waterways.  One of the earliest formed and better known of these compacts is the New York – New Jersey Port Authority. But Cruz is claiming that interstate compacts can be expanded as a way to circumvent presidential veto power.

“With congressional consent, federalized interstate compacts could shield entire areas of state regulation from the power of the federal government,” wrote Cruz and Mario Loyola in a December 2010 report for the Center for Tenth Amendment Studies. In the introduction, Cruz and Loyola state:

“Under our Constitution, interstate compacts that regulate matters within the enumerated powers of the federal government require congressional consent. That consent can be expressed (an affirmative majority vote in Congress) or even implied by congressional acquiescence. In the case of express congressional consent, historically that has been accomplished through either a bill or a resolution that typically has been presented to the President for his signature into law. 

Critically, once Congress consents to an interstate compact, the compact carries the force of federal law, trumping all prior federal and state law.”

In other words, Cruz and Loyola claim that an interstate compact can be formed and made the supreme law of the land, including trumping the Affordable Care Act, by simple “acquiescence” of Congress and therefore bypassing the need for the president’s signature.

By early 2011, this concept had already been promoted through the Sam Adams Alliance and Tea Party organizations, as described in the Weekly Standard:

“In October, Eric O’Keefe of the Sam Adams Alliance broached the compact strategy with the leaders of Tea Party Patriots, Mark Meckler and Jenny Beth Martin. And in November, they, in turn, took the idea to their national council, gathered in Washington to conduct an orientation session for newly elected members of Congress (only Republicans showed up).

When O’Keefe and a panel explained the strategy, they got a standing ovation from the 180 members of the council. ‘I’ve never heard of a panel getting a standing ovation,’ O’Keefe says. At least 37 of them signed up as state coordinators for winning legislative approval of the health care compact. An experienced political consultant, Mike Barnhart, was hired as national coordinator.”

The concept was also promoted through the State Policy Network’s “Federalism in Action” program, and Cruz himself presented the idea at the 2010 American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference, where it promptly became the foundation for ALEC’s “Health Care Compact ACT” model legislation for state legislators.

To date, this Healthcare Compact Act has been passed in eight states: Texas, Oklahoma, Utah, Missouri, Indiana, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. The healthcare compact is promoted and tracked through an organization called the Healthcare Compact Alliance, a project of Competitive Governance Action, a 501(c)(4) co-founded by Texas businessman Leo Linbeck III and Eric O’Keefe and sharing the address of the Linbeck Group, LLC, in Houston.

The vision of shielding entire areas of state regulation from the federal government has been further enshrined by ALEC in the form of a model bill developed by their International Task Force, and approved by the ALEC board of directors.  Under the title “State Legislature United Compact,” the model bill provides validation for those who half-jokingly warn about the “United States of ALEC,” apparently giving ALEC a role in forming and running the commission that would organize the interstate compact, and ensuring that like-minded conservatives would control the topics and outcomes of a convention.

ALEC’s December 2013 States and Nation Summit in D.C. was sponsored, in part, by another Linbeck and O’Keefe nonprofit, called the Citizens for Self Governance.  Its legal name is the John Hancock Committee of the States and it’s the parent organization of the Convention of the States (one of several organizations promoting an Article V convention to amend the Constitution).  The organization was incubated prior to gaining its own nonprofit status by American Majority, an organization founded by Drew and Ned Ryun to “infuse new Tea Party blood into the political system.”

Until now, the only method used to amend the Constitution has been through a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress, followed by ratification by three-fourths of the states. However, there is another process in Article V that allows for a convention to be called by two thirds of state legislatures.  Mark Meckler, cofounder of the Tea Party Patriots, is now president of the Citizens for Self Governance and is overseeing the group’s Article V convention efforts.

UPDATE: The Georgia State Senate has just become the nation's first legislative body to pass a Convention of States application. It passed on February 4, 2014, by a vote of 37-17

UPDATE: The Georgia State Senate has just become the nation’s first legislative body to pass a Convention of States application. It passed on February 4, 2014, by a vote of 37-17. You can see a copy of the application here.

Meckler promoted the Convention of the States project in a session at ALEC’s December summit. On the Saturday following the summit, roughly 100 state legislators from 32 states met at Mt. Vernon to advance convention plans.  Ferris’ reflections on the event acknowledged that there are divisions in conservative ranks between those who want the “con-con,” and those who fear a “runaway con-con” infiltrated and overrun by liberals. Historical revisionist David Barton has just recently endorsed a Constitutional Convention, while both Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum and the John Birch Society (JBS) fall into the second category.

As noted in The Public Eye article Nullification, Neo-Confederates, and the Revenge of the Right, the JBS has become a major force behind state nullification efforts across the country.

Despite misgivings about a “runaway con-con,” there are several right-wing groups around the country working to organize a convention, but with some disagreements about how it would work.  PRA senior fellow Frederick Clarkson, Salon’s Paul Rosenberg, and I have all listened in on conference calls by one such organization that has differences of opinion with the Convention of the States on how to proceed (you can read Rosenberg’s story about it in Salon). The leader of that organization has a plan for the first amendment to be a “Sovereignty and State’s Rights Amendment,” allowing any federal law to be “countermanded” by the agreement of 30 states.

This state’s rights movement is gaining traction across the country, including among some on the political Left, but the money and organizing behind the effort is solidly conservative­—or perhaps better described as paleo-libertarian, or a combination of radical anti-government philosophies wedded to social conservatism.