New Alabama Law Punishes Union-Friendly Employers

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) announced Monday that she has signed a bill into law punishing employers that make it easier for their employees to bargain collectively.

The law, known as Senate Bill 231, bars companies from receiving state economic incentives if they voluntarily recognize their workers’ unions, rather than forcing them to vote on whether to unionize in secret-ballot elections. Affected companies could lose grants, loans and tax credits starting next year.

Speaking to a local chamber of commerce event in Huntsville on Monday, Ivey said the anti-union law would “protect our Alabama jobs.” She also referenced a high-profile union election at a Mercedes-Benz facility near Tuscaloosa this week, in which thousands of employees will decide on whether to join the United Auto Workers union. 

“Alabama is not Michigan. Huntsville, Tuscaloosa — they’re not Detroit,” Ivey said, according to a transcript provided by her office. “We want to ensure that Alabama values, not Detroit values, continue to define the future of this great state.”

Companies could start losing economic incentives starting next year under the law.

When a majority of employees in a workplace have signed union cards, the employer can choose to voluntarily recognize the union, a process sometimes called “card check.” Once it’s clear enough employees have signed, the union becomes official automatically. This allows union leaders to avoid an election campaign, during which employers often try to pressure their workers — by means legal and illegal — to vote “no” on unionization.

Anti-union groups and many Republican lawmakers are pushing bills like the one Ivey signed, claiming unions bully workers into signing cards. Tennessee implemented a similar law last year, and Georgia followed suit earlier this year. Meanwhile, the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council has been shopping the legislation around GOP-led states, the Associated Press recently reported.

After Georgia approved its bill, Liz Shuler, the president of the AFL-CIO labor federation, called the legislation “appalling,” and said it undermines the “fundamental freedoms” of both workers and employers.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said Monday that she was signing the anti-union legislation into law.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said Monday that she was signing the anti-union legislation into law. via Associated Press

Labor groups could mount legal challenges to the laws on the grounds that they conflict with the National Labor Relations Act, the federal law covering collective bargaining in the private sector. Benjamin Sachs, a labor law professor at Harvard Law School, recently told HuffPost that he believed state laws like Alabama’s will probably be overridden by the federal law. 

“The basic idea of labor preemption is states can’t do stuff like this,” he said.

Southern states tend to have some of the lowest rates of union membership in the country — though Alabama’s is the highest in the region, at 7.5%, compared to a national rate of 10%. The UAW is hoping to make more inroads in the South following its landmark win last month at the Volkswagen assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where workers voted nearly 3-to-1 in favor of unionizing.  

That victory came in spite of the best efforts of Ivey and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, who co-signed a letter with other Republican governors urging workers to vote against the union. 

Mercedes-Benz workers in Alabama finish voting in their election on Friday.