In his article for Truthout, journalist Mario Vasquez showcases the struggle taking place in Spokane, WA between big business, with support of local politicians, against workers concerning minimum wage issues. He notes how state legislatures were being lobbied to restrict what local governments could do, especially around community issues, including labor. However, this is not only about the minimum wage, it is more broadly about the rights of corporations superseding the rights of local communities
The conflict in Spokane centers on Proposition 1, with corporate interests being represented by city officials and lobbying groups who are against raising the minimum wage. In fact, Vasquez writes that “much of the push made in state legislatures has been carried out by the American Legislative Exchange Council, the notorious corporate-funded lobbying organization otherwise known as ALEC…Due to the corporate-funded power of groups like ALEC, state governments are becoming more and more hostile to democratically enabled labor power.” Spokane is simply another in a long line of communities being targeted by ALEC’s pro-business interests.
Prop 1 would give power back to the people of Spokane, not the corporations. By challenging the idea that corporations have rights like people, who need to be free of regulations and government oversight in order to improve business, Prop 1 could be a key step against the unchecked hand of big business.
This battle started in 2009 when an activist group called Envision Spokane tried to get a measure passed that would protect the environment and “elevates [city] Charter rights above rights claimed by corporations.” Opponents of the measure lobbied city council members to add “advisory questions” such as “would you like to raise taxes to pay for this program?” These questions were crucial to the measure getting rejected by voters, and these same questions were voted against by the city council on the 2011 ballot. The measure was defeated in 2011 by a margin of two percent. In 2015, this new measure is aimed at creating a living wage minimum, equal pay for women, the right to not be wrongfully terminated, and giving more power to local governments than to corporations. The last part of the measure is most powerful, and Kai Huschke, spokesperson for Envision Spokane stated, “It’s about actually shifting power away from those who currently hold it and do much damage, and back into the people’s hands.”
Prop 1 is an attempt by the people of Spokane to democratically enact social change, and the corporations are fighting it tooth and nail to stop them. The corporations stand to lose a lot in Spokane, and if the measure is passed, it will be an example to other cities and states who are fighting for a living wage. The fact that big business was able to influence the content of a ballot shows that they already wield power over the political process, and they have been able to stifle the rights of people in places such as Colorado, where preemptive laws have been enacted that basically deny the Colorado residents from even trying to raise their minimum wage.
Although there was some corporate news coverage around Spokane, there was very little, likely because it is such a localized issue. The stories they did report centered on the business ramifications of the measure. There was little attention paid to the rights of the residents of Spokane. One article failed to list the provisions of the measure, with the major focus being the possibility that the measure would curtail corporate power and cause businesses to leave Spokane. These were in economic publications whose audience would likely be sympathetic to the corporation’s plight. Big business’s insidious hand is not limited to the media, and Spokane’s council members, through ALEC, it is felt throughout our society.
Mario Vasquez, “Campaign for a ‘Worker Bill of Rights Puts ALEC in Spokane’s Crosshairs,” Truthout, September 23, 2015, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32900-campaign-for-a-worker-bill-of-rights-puts-alec-in-spokane-s-crosshairs
Student Researcher: Rob Moreno (Diablo Valley College)
Faculty Evaluator: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)