MONTGOMERY — Members of the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee approved a bill on Wednesday barring businesses from receiving economic development incentives if they voluntarily recognize their employees' union. 

State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) said he was inspired to bring the bill after United Auto Workers (UAW) recently announced an ongoing unionization push by workers at a Hyundai plant in Montgomery and a Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance. Under existing law, a labor union may be recognized by an employer if a majority of employees sign cards pledging to join the union.

According to Orr's bill, no employer would be eligible to receive an economic development incentive for a project if the employer voluntarily grants recognition rights for the employees solely and exclusively based on signed labor organization authorization cards if the selection of a bargaining representative may be conducted through a secret ballot election.

“I’m not anti-union. Unions are a lot like good government; they’re a necessary evil. They have their place in the workforce, but there are a lot of companies that can’t afford the labor, the expense, or the unionization and the demands that come with it and the added expense,” State Sen. David Sessions (R-Grand Bay) said during the meeting. “What you’re going to wind up doing is if those companies unionize, you’re putting them out of business. You’re putting them out of business and you’re losing all of those jobs.”

An employer who voluntarily discloses an employee's personal contact information to a labor organization or third party acting on behalf of a labor organization without the employee's prior written consent, unless otherwise required by state or federal law, would also be ineligible for economic development incentives under the bill.

“I’m very supportive of Alabama being a right-to-work state. I have pause about telling private businesses what they can and can not do,” State Sen. Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville) said during the meeting. “Granted, I get that they can do whatever they want to do but we’d be taking the incentive back. I’m going to vote for it in committee, but I’m just reluctant about the principle about telling a business what they can do on that issue.”

The committee held a brief public hearing before approving the bill, mostly along party lines. The bill now heads to the full Senate for their consideration.

Stephanie Smith, president and CEO of the Alabama Policy Institute, said the bill would bring fairness to the unionization process. 

“I believe we all want fairness. We all want integrity in the process and we want the right to vote freely and without coercion and we want our votes to count. Passing this law would give employees those exact same things if and when their place of employment goes through a unionization process,” Smith said. “Passing this law will send a strong message to private employers that indicates that both the Legislature and the state of Alabama will protect businesses and their employees from any unwanted or heavy-handed tactics in internal elections.”

Haeden Wright, a senior Jobs to Move America organizer, said, “This bill would hurt Alabama businesses that want to do the right thing.”

“Passing this legislation would mean a long court battle for all of you as it will almost certainly be struck down. You can not supersede federal law with state law. There are two paths recognized at the federal level, and (voluntary) recognition is one,” Wright said. 

Allen Harris, CEO of Bailey-Harris Construction, said the bill would ensure workers can vote on unionization decisions free of intimidation.

“When companies hold a unionization vote, unlike a private voting booth for a private vote, workers can be, may be pressured to support or vote publicly in front of union organizers. This lack of privacy known as a card check can create an environment where workers may feel pressured to approve the union,” Harris said. “In my opinion, SB 231 wisely addresses this concern by ensuring that for those industries that receive state incentives workers can cast their vote freely without fear of any kind of intimidation or repercussion.”

Mustafa Hassan, president of the Communications Workers of America Local 3905 and a unionized employee at a call center in Huntsville, said the bill would make it more difficult for companies in Alabama to unionize. 

“Prior to us being unionized, people would literally be fired almost every day. We had no rights. We had no say so in our metrics and things of that sort. Our jobs are often outsourced overseas. AT&T purchased DIRECTV back in 2016 and it gave us an option to do the card check process. My personal experience was there were no hiccups, it was a smooth situation. Workers were not being intimidated to vote for the union,” Hassan said. “Since then, we’ve been able to bargain our own contract. We have a say so in what we get. We have certain job protections where we get a certain amount of calls that are guaranteed to come into our center and that protects jobs for us. Without that, I don’t even think our center would be open. Those calls would be going overseas somewhere.”

The bill would not apply to any agreement between the state and an employer before Jan. 1, 2025. The bill would go into effect on October 1 if passed into law.

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