Georgia is trying to make it harder for workers to unionize

Last week, Georgia lawmakers passed a law that would make it harder for workers to organize. SB 362, championed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, bans companies from receiving economic incentives from the state if they voluntarily recognize a union instead of requiring workers to vote in a secret ballot election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board Board (NLRB). While the bill's Republican supporters frame the legislation as a means of protecting workers' right to privacy, its effect would be to protect employers' right to coerce their workforce during the union election process; Currently, around 42 percent of employers are being charged with violations of federal labor law during this period.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the 1935 law governing collective bargaining in the private sector, allows for such voluntary recognition. Under the law's long-standing interpretation, employers can recognize a union and begin bargaining once employees have expressed their desire to form a union, often through a “card check” in which employees demonstrate that the majority have signed a union authorization card. The process has been widely used by unions in recent years because it offers a quicker route to union organizing and collective bargaining than the NLRB process, which employers often exploit to wage a union-busting campaign by luring workers into open bargaining sessions and in other ways they use their unfettered access to workers to sow confusion and fear.

Georgia's law passed the state Senate by a vote of 31-23 last month and the House of Representatives on Wednesday by a vote of 96-78, with votes almost entirely along party lines and Republicans supporting the bill. It will certainly face legal challenges because the NLRA violates workers' right to voluntary recognition. Liz Shuler, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), said of the bill: “It violates the law.”[es] long-standing precedent set by the NLRA.” Only 4.4 percent of Georgia workers are unionized, the eighth lowest union density in the United States. The bill is “a solution in search of a problem,” said James Williams of the Georgia AFL-CIO.

SB 362 is the latest salvo in the corporate-led backlash against workers now unfolding across the country, a response to the broad support that has begun in the U.S. labor movement as well as the NLRB's recent Cemex decision, which upheld recognition of the Union over the card prescribes. Review process when an employer commits an unfair labor practice so serious that the board determines the violation would invalidate a union election. Workers' willingness to fight back against skyrocketing inequality has not actually translated into greater union density or widespread, lasting power. But to even be threatened with such a possibility is more than the wealthy and their representatives in elected office can endure.

In Georgia, the counterattack is particularly aimed at the United Auto Workers (UAW), which has vowed to organize much of the country's non-union auto sector as well as the emerging electric vehicle (EV) industry. The state offers significant economic development subsidies and tax incentives to employers who move there, and the biggest beneficiaries lately have been Hyundai and Rivian. The two automakers received $2.1 billion and $1.5 billion in incentives, respectively, according to Good Jobs First, which tracks subsidies.

The bill requires employers to repay previously received incentives if they grant voluntary recognition. Earlier this month, electric vehicle company Rivian said it was pausing construction of a planned $5 billion electric vehicle and battery plant in Georgia after an annual financial report revealed a net loss of $5.4 billion in 2023.

SB 362 isn't the only bill making its way through state legislatures aimed at hampering the union organizing process. Lawmakers in Tennessee passed similar legislation last year, and similar legislation is on the horizon in Alabama and South Carolina. As the Atlanta Civic Circle reported, the Georgia and Tennessee bills bear a striking similarity to the Taxpayer Dollars Protect Workers Act, a bill from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative coalition of lawmakers and industry representatives. ALEC is lobbying for the legislation and hopes to spread the idea in more states.

In these southern states, there are a number of auto plants whose workers are in the process of unionizing, a development that local lawmakers want to prevent. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has called labor organizing a “threat from Detroit,” and the state Chamber of Commerce is pursuing a legal challenge against the unions. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, who leads the least unionized state in the country, said earlier this year that he would fight unions “to the gates of hell.”