Voter rights for workers in Tennessee and Georgia – and more?  -American Legislative Exchange Council

Georgia is just one governor's signature away from joining Tennessee and passing similar labor reform.

What do Tennessee and Georgia have in common? Aside from the obvious answer that both states are the subject of some great country songs, both states may soon adopt a common policy that protects the right of private sector workers to vote by secret ballot in unionization votes.

Tennessee became the first state in the country to pass such a law last year. HB 1342 was sponsored by Speaker Cameron Sexton and requires companies applying for federal subsidies to conduct union votes by secret ballot when possible. It also requires that these companies give their employees the choice of sharing personal contact information with unions or keeping it secret.

Failure to follow these guidelines may have consequences. Companies that receive government subsidies and then engage in union organizing other than through secret ballots may be required to return any “monies, grants, funds or other incentives disbursed by the state.” Using card checking — the process of collecting union authorization cards signed by workers to collect votes — as an election method also makes a company ineligible to receive “economic development incentives” from the state.

Cardboard check voting is recognized by the National Labor Relations Board, but there are significant concerns about the neutrality and security of the process. Many of these concerns stem from a lack of control over how and when signed authorization cards are collected from workers, as this can be grounds for interference, including threats of violence. Conversely, secret ballots allow employees to cast their votes privately and away from interested parties. This protection against coercion and intimidation is one of the many reasons that secret ballots are used in federal, state and local elections to protect the rights of voters and ensure election integrity. What is noteworthy is that the unions themselves hold secret ballots to elect their leaders.

Now Georgia is just one governor's signature away from joining Tennessee in passing similar labor reform. Georgia's SB 362 states that “in order to be eligible for an economic development incentive,” an employer cannot voluntarily recognize a union vote conducted by card check if a secret ballot option was available. In other words, companies must commit to conducting union votes by secret ballot in order to receive and keep government grants. The Georgia bill also requires companies to obtain written consent from their employees before sharing personal contact information with a union.

Alabama is considering a bill with similar reforms. The recently introduced SB 231 also ties federal subsidies to companies that commit to conducting union votes by secret ballot and obtaining written permission from employees before sharing their contact information with unions. As a sponsor of the bill, Senator Arthur Orr states, “It is good policy for private voting to play a role.” [and] to ensure that employees…can keep their voices to themselves and are not coerced or bullied in one way or another.”

Like reforms in Tennessee and potentially Georgia and Alabama, ALEC's Taxpayers Protect Worker Act aims to protect workers' personal information and their right to a secret ballot. The model policy approved at ALEC's 2023 Annual Meeting affirms that “whenever government funds or benefits are requested by a private entity… such benefits.” [should] The prerequisite for this is that the private company agrees not to waive its employees' right to a secret ballot when recognizing a work organization. It also states that employees and subcontractors have the right to decide whether to share their personal contact information trade unions are passed on.

While efforts to protect election integrity typically focus on presidential and congressional elections, some states are expanding their efforts to also protect workers' votes and votes. Through reforms like those described above, states like Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama are emphasizing that workers' voices—like those of caucuses and union bosses—should be protected from intimidation, interference, and surveillance.