Republicans in Georgia pass a bill to penalize pro-union employers

Republican lawmakers in Georgia passed a bill Wednesday to penalize employers who make it easier for workers to form unions, sending the bill to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature.

Senate Bill 362 would bar companies from receiving government economic incentives if they voluntarily recognize a union instead of requiring workers to vote in a secret ballot. The goal is to eliminate a process called “card check,” in which workers can unionize simply by proving there is majority support in the form of signed union cards.

The bill passed the state Senate last month by a vote of 31-23. The House of Representatives voted 96-78 on Wednesday to clear it. Both votes were predominantly party political.

“Unions would much rather win voluntary recognition than go through an electoral process that can be filled with intimidation and abuse.”

Although Kemp has indicated he supports the bill, it will likely face legal challenges because it conflicts with federal labor law. The longstanding interpretation of the National Labor Relations Act, the 1935 law governing collective bargaining in the private sector, allows employers to recognize a union and begin bargaining immediately after workers have made their wishes clear.

Unions would much rather win voluntary recognition than go through an electoral process that can be rife with intimidation and abuse. During the election campaign, workers are often drawn into propaganda meetings with an audience, while union leaders end up subject to retaliation and even dismissal. The process can also lead to long delays and litigation.

President Joe Biden's progressive nominees to the National Labor Relations Board tried encourage more employers to do so voluntarily acknowledge Unions, like Microsoft, Major League Baseball and many media companies have recently done so. Unions like the United Auto Workers sometimes manage to get employers to agree in contracts to voluntarily recognize unions in future workplaces.

But employer groups and Republican lawmakers have opposed voluntary recognition for years, saying it pressures workers into signing union cards.

Open image modallyGeorgia Gov. Brian Kemp (right), pictured here in Atlanta, has said he supports the bill that would ban subsidies to companies that voluntarily recognize unions.

Megan Varner via Getty Images

The Georgia bill is part of a broader GOP effort to rein in unions amid a recovery organize And Work interruptions lately. In one speech Speaking to the Georgia Chamber of Commerce in January, Kemp lamented the major labor strikes in 2023, saying that “activists” were trying to “attack job creators” and “cause the free market to grind to a halt.”

The Associated Press reported last month that the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council is pushing Republican-led states to introduce legislation that would ban subsidies to employers who voluntarily recognize unions. A bill similar to Georgia's was passed by the Tennessee legislature last year and signed by Republican Gov. Bill Lee.

Like other states, Georgia offers a number of tax incentives and economic development grants to employers who want to relocate to the state. According to the Subsidy Tracker Led by the nonprofit Good Jobs First, automakers Hyundai and Rivian were the biggest beneficiaries of state and local awards in Georgia, receiving awards worth $2.1 billion and $1.5 billion, respectively, in 2022.

All companies receiving subsidies would forfeit them by voluntarily recognizing a union under Georgia law.

“The basic idea of ​​labor law prevention is that states are not allowed to do something like that.”

– Benjamin Sachs, Harvard Law School

Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO, addressed X on Wednesday to call the bill “appalling” and said it attacks “the basic freedoms” of workers and employers. She also said it violated a “long-standing precedent” of the National Labor Relations Act.

Benjamin Sachs, a labor law professor at Harvard Law School, told HuffPost that he expects Georgia and Tennessee laws would likely be overridden by federal law. States can set their own collective bargaining policies when they act as market participants — for example, requiring union labor on a state-funded project to ensure there are no disruptions — but Sachs sees no “market-based rationale.” ” for Georgia to try to block card review.

“The basic idea of ​​labor preemption is that states can’t do something like that,” he said.

As Sachs noted on the legal blog OnLabor, the conservatives pushing these bills should be careful what they wish for. If the Georgia legislation stands, liberal states could similarly provide economic incentives favoring unions. For example, they might try to condition benefits on employers voluntarily recognizing a union or allowing unions access to company property during an organizing campaign.

If Georgia's legislation continues, Sachs wrote, “states will be free to experiment with a range of options to better enable workers to form and join unions.”

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