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Resolutions & Amendments

41st International Convention - Chicago, IL (2014)

State Laws Preempting Local Employment Regulation

Resolution No. 50
41st International Convention
McCormick Place
July 14 - 18, 2014
Chicago, IL


            Nearly 40 percent of American workers get no paid sick leave. In the lowest-paid tenth of the workforce, 80 percent have no sick leave.  These employees commonly go to work sick, or leave sick children home alone, out of fear of dismissal. Even if they are not fired, the loss of pay is painful, particularly for the lowest-paid tenth of workers.  In the absence of federal action, cities, counties, and even one state, have begun to address the issue; and


            Residents of San Francisco were the first to approve a referendum establishing the right to paid sick leave in 2006.  Ordinances are in effect in Seattle, Newark, Jersey City, Washington, D.C., and Portland, Ore. In April, New York City joined the list.  Connecticut has a statewide mandate; and


            At the same time, using model legislation provided by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and spurred to action by the National Federation of Independent Business, the Chamber of Commerce and the National Restaurant Association, 11 states (Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wisconsin) have adopted laws that ban any city or county in the state from establishing the right to sick leave. In Wisconsin, the law retroactively abolished the right to sick leave that had been approved by 68 percent of Milwaukee voters in a 2008 referendum; and


            The last increase in the federal minimum wage was in 2009.  Many state governments have long had their own minimum wages, but to address rapidly growing income inequality and cost of living increases, local governments have begun enacting their own minimum wage rates.  At least ten local governments have enacted minimum wage laws: Richmond, San Francisco and San Jose in California; Albuquerque, Bernalillo County, Santa Fe and Santa Fe County in New Mexico; Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland and Washington, D.C.  New York City has asked the state to allow it to raise its minimum wage.  Seattle is poised to adopt an increase.  A minimum wage referendum is on the ballot in November in Philadelphia; and


            At the same time, ALEC has model legislation to weaken or repeal living wage laws, prevailing wage laws and minimum wage laws.  One model calls for the complete elimination of the minimum wage.  Another model bans local governments from adopting their own minimum wage standards and abolishes any existing local minimum wage laws. Florida, Indiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma are among the dozen states that have enacted laws prohibiting local minimum wage ordinances; and


            Millions of workers don’t receive the wages they have earned.  64 percent of low-wage workers have some amount of pay stolen out of their paychecks every week, including 26 percent who are effectively paid less than minimum wage. Known as wage theft, a large number of employers violate minimum wage, overtime, and other wage and hour laws with no fear of consequences.  In the absence of meaningful help from the federal government and some state governments, local governments have stepped in; and


            In 2010, Miami-Dade County passed the first municipal wage theft law. In its first year, the county prosecuted over 600 claims of stolen wages, and recovered over $1.7 million in illegally withheld pay. Broward County in Florida adopted a similar statute; and


            At the same time, Florida legislators, backed by business interests, introduced a bill to preempt and repeal these local wage theft ordinances.  The proposed legislation stipulates that “a county, municipality, or political subdivision of the state may not adopt or maintain in effect any law, ordinance, or rule that creates requirements, regulations, or processes for the purpose of addressing wage theft.” The bill has been defeated in the past four legislative sessions; and


            Hundreds of bills have been introduced in more than thirty states banning local governments from establishing minimum wages, forbidding local governments from enacting ordinances on the right to sick leave and making it difficult or impossible for workers to recover unpaid wages, known as wage theft.  Part of a national movement, driven by ALEC, these provisions primarily provide minimum rights and protections for unorganized workers; and



            Not surprisingly, this push is driven by a national movement and model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  ALEC model bills call for the complete elimination of the minimum wage.  A model ALEC resolution opposes any inflation adjustments to a minimum wage.  Another model bill calls on states to ban localities from adopting their own minimum wage standards.  This bill also abolishes any existing local minimum wage laws and forbids localities from enacting them in the future. 


            AFSCME abhors this attack on wages and labor standards.  Referenda and polls show that when people are allowed to vote on laws, such as minimum wage and sick leave, there is broad support among Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals.  This preemptive legislation denies the right to vote and has rightly been called a “campaign against democracy”; and


            AFSCME rejects the justification offered for these laws that it would be too difficult for employers to comply with a patchwork of differing local laws.  These same people argue that uniform federal employment regulation should yield to the states’ own patchwork of laws because they best know their own labor markets.  Labor markets vary within a state and cities best know their own markets; and


            AFSCME will continue to work with allies to expose this nationwide campaign attacking workers’ wages and labor standards. We will work against preemptive legislation wherever we find it.

SUBMITTED BY:     Brian Stafford, President

                                    Steve Kroll, Treasurer and Delegate

                                    AFSCME Council 48