The Georgia Senate panel is advancing a bill that would make the state even less hospitable to union workers – WABE

A bill backed by Gov. Brian Kemp to make it harder for unions to come to Georgia took a step toward becoming law Wednesday, passing the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee in a 4-3 party-line vote.

Senate Bill 362 from Brunswick Republican Sen. Mike Hodges would prohibit new businesses opening in Georgia from receiving state incentives if they recognize union representation without first using a secret ballot rather than a card check, another organizing method, which generally facilitates the creation of a union. This would not change anything for the unions that already exist in Georgia.

“In the future, if a company enters into an agreement with the state to receive certain economic development incentives, this bill would require the company to agree not to voluntarily grant recognition rights to employees based on card checks, but instead to select a negotiating representative.” “The vote was by secret ballot,” Hodges said.

Hodges said the bill would not apply in cases where a company has an existing employment contract that states future votes will be by card check.

Labor lawyer Nicolas Stanojevich argued that the bill requires the state to assume the powers granted by federal government regulations governing the formation of labor organizations.

“If the federal government decides to invade an area and regulate that area through legislation, all other governmental efforts to change the operation of that regulation or the relationships between the parties under that law will be defeated because they defeat the entire federal purpose “make and undermine the supremacy of federal law,” he said.

Hodges argued that the bill does not preempt the federal government because companies could choose to decline government incentives.

Last year was the most active year for major labor disputes in more than two decades, according to Pew Research, and major labor strikes by Hollywood actors and writers, auto workers and health care workers made headlines across the country.

Last August, 61% of people polled by Gallup said unions generally help the economy the most, while 36% said they hurt the economy the most.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 5.4% of Georgia workers were represented by unions in 2022, down from 5.8% the year before. That's less than all but six other states.

Gov. Brian Kemp said at an event for business leaders last month that he wanted to prevent major labor disruptions in Georgia.

“Last year we saw how damaging anti-business policies are to workers and the economy,” he said. “The largest strikes of 2023, lasting just six weeks, cost the American economy over $9 billion and more than 75,000 jobs.”

“The people orchestrating these actions are partisan activists who want nothing more than to see the free market come to a screeching halt, businesses large and small go under, and economic growth and opportunity dictated by the heavy hand of government – not “creators of jobs,” he added.

Republicans on the committee agreed.

“It just means that if they want to use Georgia taxpayer dollars, they have to ensure privacy in this election,” said Athens Republican Sen. Bill Cowsert. “And I’m surprised that the employee representatives aren’t demanding this. Because voting privately, just like we do in our elections, stops companies from bullying people or firing or punishing people who want union representation.”

But union leaders in Georgia protested loudly in the opposite direction, calling the bill a sign that the government cares more about helping owners make more money than helping workers make ends meet.

“This anti-union legislation runs counter to everything else the state has done,” said Sandra Williams, president of the Atlanta North Georgia Labor Council, citing issues such as education funding and Medicaid expansion. “You don’t care about people like me, black people, brown people, people who don’t have a lot of income. They don't care about her. In this condition it is furniture.”

Federal data shows that union membership is higher among black workers, at 11.8%, compared to 9.8% among white workers.

James Clements, president of the Georgia State Council of Machinists, said there is an open invitation for Kemp to attend the union meeting in Atlanta this month. He said the bill would likely cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuits against the state and put the government on the wrong side of public opinion.

“A majority of Americans would join a union now if they could, and working people across all sectors of the economy are organizing like never before,” he said. “The new era of the labor movement is here, and SB 362 is proof that Governor Kemp and Republican lawmakers are fighting to slow union growth.”

This story was provided by WABE content partner Georgia Recorder.