Alabama Senate bill proposes penalties for companies that voluntarily acknowledge unions

The GLE 350 model showcased at the New York International Auto Show at the Javits Center on April 1, 2015, in New York City, proudly displayed the iconic Mercedes emblem. Manufactured at Mercedes’ plant in Vance, located just outside Tuscaloosa, the GLE is one of several car models produced at this facility. (Kevin Hagen/Getty Images)

A bill introduced in the Alabama Senate last week aims to deny state economic incentives to companies that voluntarily recognize employee unions or opt for a non-secret ballot process.

SB 231, which is sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, states that employers who willingly provide a union with an employee’s personal contact information without the employee’s prior written consent, unless mandated by state or federal law, or require subcontractors to engage in such activities, will be disqualified from receiving economic development incentives. Furthermore, employers who have already received incentives would be required to repay them.

Orr mentioned on Tuesday that the bill drew inspiration from the unionization attempts taking place at the Mercedes-Benz plant located in Vance, just outside of Tuscaloosa.

According to the speaker, it is important for employees to have the freedom to cast their vote in a private manner. This ensures that they can maintain their autonomy and avoid any form of coercion or bullying from either side of the union debate.

Workers at the Mercedes-Benz plant are coming together with the United Auto Workers (UAW) to address concerns about stagnant pay and benefits. The UAW recently announced that over half of the employees at the plant have already signed union authorization cards. Once 70% of the workforce signs these cards, the UAW will proceed with calling for a vote. In a similar vein, employees at the Hyundai plant in Montgomery have also initiated efforts to unionize.

Company and state officials, including Gov. Kay Ivey, have voiced their disapproval of the union efforts. Recently, Alabama Political Reporter disclosed that workers at Mercedes-Benz have lodged complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that the company has been engaging in tactics to undermine unionization.

According to Bren Riley, the president of the AFL-CIO of Alabama, they have observed comparable legislation in other red states. Just recently, the Georgia Legislature also passed a similar bill. Similarly, Tennessee passed a similar bill last year.

“Why are they targeting the few union workers we have?” he questioned. “Wouldn’t it be more productive to address the exploitation of children by Hyundai suppliers and similar issues? Why not prioritize expanding Medicaid to provide health insurance to those in need? And what about assisting individuals who are unable to conceive by supporting them with in vitro fertilization? It’s clear that the state of Alabama has misplaced priorities, but unfortunately, that’s what Donald Trump wants. Nonetheless, we remain committed to making America great in the red state of Alabama.”

According to Riley, the law is not expected to have a significant impact on the state. He mentioned that in his 40 years of experience, he was aware of only two Alabama companies that willingly acknowledged unions.

According to Orr, his main concern lies with the non-secret ballot aspect of the bill. He believes that employees should have the freedom to vote in either direction without their choice being made public.

“He said that if they want to be open about it and say, ‘Hey, I voted up or I voted down,’ then that’s definitely their business.”

Next week, the Legislature will reconvene.

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