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Alabama Senate passes bill that could limit voluntary union recognition


Alabama Senate passes bill that could limit voluntary union recognition

Apr 16, 2024 | 7:23 pm ET
By Jemma Stephenson
Alabama Senate passes bill that could limit voluntary union recognition
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, reviews files during a debate in the Alabama Senate on April 13, 2023. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

A bill that would effectively prevent voluntary recognition of unions passed the Senate floor Tuesday.

The bill, SB 231, passed 23-5 after extensive discussion between sponsor Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and other senators.

The legislation would deny economic incentives to a company that voluntarily recognizes a union “solely and exclusively on the basis of signed labor organization authorization cards if the selection of a bargaining representative may be conducted through a secret ballot election.”

“Doesn’t preclude the organization,” Orr said. “Doesn’t preclude the union.”

The legislation comes amid high-profile unionization drives at Mercedes-Benz’s plant outside Tuscaloosa and Hyundai’s plant in Montgomery. Mercedes workers, who have cited pay and benefit issues at the plant, are expected to vote on a union in early May. Gov. Kay Ivey and state officials have criticized the union drive.

The bill was amended on the floor to exclude companies that already have unionized work forces. Orr said the amendments came from discussions from lawyers. Alabama has the highest unionization rate in the South.

Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, asked Orr for clarification on what the bill did. He asked about how unionization process works currently. He said he was always concerned with people’s rights to come together.

Sen. Josh Carnley, R-Enterprise, said he had received calls after the bill passed the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee earlier this month. He asked about how the voluntary recognition card check worked and asked why the bill would impact employers when employees organize.

Orr said that the bill requires secret elections for unions. He said the employer would be penalized if there was not a secret ballot.

“And that’s the reason I liked this bill because it keeps the coercion from the company side or the union side,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said that he and Orr had tried to work on the bill but did not come up with a compromise.

Singleton said there were employees who ended up “perma-temps” after workplace training in factories in the state.

“We should be pissed off that our citizens get treated that way,” he said.

The bill moves to the House of Representatives.