In the face of declining membership rates, unions across the country have leaned more heavily on the federal government for help. The Biden administration has issued a slew of policies that tip the balance in favor of unions against the interest of individual employees. Most notably, in its Cemex decision last August, the National Labor Relations Board made it easier for unions to ignore workplace elections while publicly intimidating workers into supporting unionization through heavy-handed tactics. 

Such developments have tilted the playing field in favor of entrenched union interests. In the interest of leveling the playing field and empowering workers, a number of pro-worker reforms are sweeping the nation, arriving most recently in Alabama. Following in the footsteps of Georgia and Tennessee, Alabama is going in the opposite direction of the federal government by seeking to prioritize workers’ rights over union interests. 

According to federal law, unions are permitted to organize through a process known as "card check," where union representatives encourage employees to sign cards expressing their endorsement of union membership. Oftentimes, the maneuver is carried out in public settings in order to utilize social pressure. Former organizers have recounted instances of going to workers’ homes to browbeat them into submission. 

Many union organizers understand how powerful fear can be in compelling workers to support a union they might otherwise oppose. While methods vary – and not all employee experiences are the same – these unfortunate circumstances are real experiences for too many.  

Although companies have the option to decline card check and opt for a private ballot election, allowing workers to vote confidentially, there is no assurance they will choose this route – particularly given the backlash that could follow from union-aligned politicians and media. 

States can’t change federal labor law, but they can be in command of their own statutes that govern the requirements and qualifications for corporate receipt of taxpayer dollars. Over the last few years, several states are charting a new standard for how economic incentive deals can and should protect workers’ right to private ballot union elections for those companies receiving public monies. 

Tennessee and Georgia were the first to act – in 2023 and during this legislative session, respectively. Now, Alabama seeks to join them, by advancing a similar bill, filed by Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), which seeks to withhold state and local taxpayer funds from companies that recognize a union without providing employees access to a private ballot election process. 

Tennessee’s law, which has inspired Georgia and Alabama’s legislative efforts this year, is good governance modeled for other states. While government can’t (nor should it) seek to interfere with private processes overseen by private companies and financed with their own resources, government can and shall intervene in certain processes overseen by private companies subsidized with public money. After all, these are taxpayers’ dollars. 

It is well-documented that a failure to provide employees with a private ballot to determine whether to unionize is a failure to protect them from coercive, often intimidating tactics deployed by organizers. Card-check’s methods of collecting employee signatures in support of a union openly, on the job, and with subtle (or unsubtle) intimidation involved means workers are often reluctant to consider their options thoughtfully and in ways that might make them a target for union retribution. Alternatively, when workers are empowered to vote privately on whether to unionize, they can do so without the same compulsion or duress. 

Alabama is proud to be a right-to-work state since 1953. In the decades since, the state has consistently demonstrated its commitment to ensuring that workers have access to gainful employment at workplaces that respect their independent decisions about whether to join a union. It is in this spirit that Orr’s proposal moves forward and will be heard on the Senate floor this week. 

Predictably, union representatives have disparaged the reform effort, implying that they’ll sue the state if it enacts the law. “Passing this legislation would mean a long court battle for all of you as it will almost certainly be struck down,” warned Haeden Wright, a senior organizer for Jobs to Move America. Such claims are designed to intimidate state lawmakers, who are well within their legal latitude to determine how public dollars are allocated. Indeed, any receipt of taxpayer dollars by a private company is a privilege – one provided for and determined by state and local governments, which can attach certain conditions and guardrails as they see fit. Furthermore, any attempt to litigate this policy would directly undermine the basis of unions’ own labor peace agreements in other states. 

We all want fairness and integrity without coercion in the union certification process. This law would ensure employees are given ample opportunity for their independent decisions to be recognized and respected while signaling to employers and employees that Alabama honors and respects their interests. 

Vincent Vernuccio serves as Labor Policy Senior Fellow at Workers for Opportunity, a national initiative of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Stephanie Smith is the President and CEO of the Alabama Policy Institute.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to

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