Georgia Senate passes bill to limit new labor unions

Sen. Mike Hodges, R- Brunswick, speaks Thursday in favor of Senate Bill 362 at the Georgia Capitol. The bill would block economic incentives to businesses that voluntarily recommended unions or share contact information of workers with unions. (Natrice Miller/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)
Sen. Mike Hodges, R- Brunswick, speaks Thursday in favor of Senate Bill 362 at the Georgia Capitol. The bill would block economic incentives to businesses that voluntarily recommended unions or share contact information of workers with unions. (Natrice Miller/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

The Georgia Senate voted Thursday to pass a bill that would challenge the ability of new labor unions to form in the state.

Businesses that voluntarily recognize unions through a check of signed union cards rather than a secret ballot election would not have access to state economic development incentives under Senate Bill 362, which was approved in a 31-23 vote, mostly along party lines.

State Sen. Mike Hodges, a Brunswick Republican and one of Gov. Brian Kemp's floor leaders, said workers can still form a union, so long as they vote through a secret ballot election. That, he said, would prevent organizers from trying to "coerce, intimidate or harass employees publicly" into joining. Kemp voiced support for the idea last month in his annual State of the State address.

It would also prevent access to economic incentives, such as tax credits for jobs on large projects and access to grants, for businesses that provide labor unions their workers' contact information, even though that is a provision under the National Labor Relations Act.

Supporters of the proposal say the bill would not preempt federal law or impact current agreements that unions have with employers. Employers could still choose to voluntarily recognize unions, but they would not be eligible for the incentives.

Hodges saidhis father was a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and that he would not have carried the bill if it "in any way, shape or form is injurious to unions or union members."

However, because secret ballot elections take longer to conduct, critics of the legislation said employers would have more time to intimidate workers against voting in support of a union through required employeemeetings, where employers often deter union membership. Voluntary recognition allows unions to begin negotiating with companies immediately, and card checks are usually a proxy to demonstrate worker support for a union.

"Union representatives advocate for fair wages and safe working conditions and make sure that the interests of workers are fairly represented," said Sen. Donzella James, a Democrat from Atlanta. "This bill rewards business owners who make it more difficult for our working Georgians to speak up for themselves."

Opponents also say a perceived conflict with federal law could open Georgia up to a lawsuit, and "Georgia taxpayers will ultimately pay the bill," said Sen. Jason Esteves, a Democrat from Atlanta.

This bill would discourage unions from expanding in the state and from "holding big business accountable," he said.

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