Labor has been stirring recently. That’s unacceptable for bosses, who never rest in their attacks on unions. Case in point: a new bill in Georgia that seeks to ensure the unionization process is as difficult for workers and favorable to bosses as possible.

Governor Brian Kemp speaking in Georgia, August 18, 2023. (Alyssa Pointer / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Last week, Georgia lawmakers passed legislation aimed at making it harder for workers to unionize. SB 362, championed by Republican governor Brian Kemp, bars companies from receiving economic incentives from the state if they voluntarily recognize a union rather than requiring workers to hold a secret-ballot election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). While the bill’s Republican backers characterize 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, some 42 percent of employers are charged with violating federal labor law during that period.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the 1935 law that governs private sector collective bargaining, allows for such voluntary recognition. According to the long-standing interpretation of the law, employers can recognize a union and begin bargaining once workers have demonstrated their desire to unionize, often via “card check,” where workers show that a majority have signed union authorization cards. The process has been frequently used by unions in recent years as it offers a faster route to unionization and contract bargaining than the NLRB process, which employers frequently take advantage of to wage a union-busting campaign, hauling workers into captive-audience meetings and otherwise using their unfettered access to workers to sow confusion and fear.

The Georgia legislation passed in the state senate last month 31-23 and in the House on Wednesday 96-78, in votes that fell almost entirely along party lines, with Republicans backing the bill. It’s sure to face legal challenges for violating the NLRA’s protection of workers’ right to voluntary recognition. As American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) president Liz Shuler said of the bill, it “violat[es] long-held precedent established by the NLRA.” Only 4.4 percent of workers in Georgia are unionized, the eighth-lowest union density in the United States. The bill is “a solution in search of a problem,” James Williams of the Georgia AFL-CIO said.

SB 362 is the latest salvo in the corporate-led backlash against workers now unfolding nationwide, a response to the widespread support the US labor movement has begun to enjoy, as well as the NLRB’s recent Cemex decision, which requires union recognition via the card-check process if an employer commits an unfair labor practice that is so egregious that the board decides that the violation would invalidate a union election. Workers’ willingness to fight back against skyrocketing inequality hasn’t actually translated into increased union density or widespread, lasting power. But to even be threatened with such a possibility is more than the rich and their representatives in elected office can bear.

In Georgia, the counterattack is particularly aimed at the United Auto Workers (UAW), which has vowed to organize a major portion of the country’s nonunion auto sector as well as the emergent electric vehicle (EV) industry. The state offers significant economic development subsidies and tax incentives to employers who move there, and the largest beneficiaries as of late are Hyundai and Rivian. According to Good Jobs First, which tracks subsidies, the two automakers received $2.1 billion and $1.5 billion in incentives, respectively.

The bill would require employers to pay back prior incentives received if they granted voluntary recognition. Earlier this month, EV company Rivian announced that it was pausing construction of a planned $5 billion EV and battery plant in Georgia following an annual financial report revealing a $5.4 billion net loss in 2023.

SB 362 isn’t the only bill moving through state legislatures that aims to hinder the unionization process. Tennessee lawmakers passed similar legislation last year, and Alabama and South Carolina have similar laws on the books. As Atlanta Civic Circle reported, the Georgia and Tennessee bills bear a striking resemblance to the “Taxpayer Dollars Protect Workers Act,” a bill drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative coalition of legislators and industry representatives. ALEC is championing the legislation, hoping to promote the idea in additional states.

These Southern states are home to a number of auto plants whose workers are in the process of unionizing, a development local lawmakers have pledged to crush. Alabama governor Kay Ivey has characterized workers’ organizing as a “threat from Detroit,” and the state’s chamber of commerce is unrolling a full-court press against unions. South Carolina governor Henry McMaster, who leads the least-unionized state in the country, said earlier this year that he would fight unions “all the way to the gates of hell.”

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