By Chip Brownlee
The Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Like most conservative-leaning states in the country, Alabama has been a right-to-work State for decades. This year, conservatives are trying to hammer that nail even deeper into the coffin with a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Right-to-work passed in the Yellowhammer State back in 1953 and has been in effect ever since. Across the nation, 26 states have right-to-work laws on the books, and many even have constitutional amendments guaranteeing the “right to work.”
Amendment 8 on the November ballot will give Alabama voters the opportunity to solidify right-to-work by placing it in the State constitution. And if there was ever the desire to reverse the decision, another amendment would need to be passed.
But the AFL-CIO isn’t having it. The amendment, President Bren Riley said, is pointless. It would not change the law or right-to-work and would only make it harder for right-to-work to be reversed in the future.
“On the ballot is proposed Amendment 8, a so-called right-to-work amendment that does absolutely nothing that has not already been the law in Alabama since 1953,” Riley said. “It’s been a right-to-work State longer than I’ve been alive. We have to work hard in Alabama in unions to keep our membership up.”
Right-to-work prohibits businesses from establishing agreements with labor unions that require employees to join a union upon their hiring or pay dues even if they choose not to become a member of the union.
Proponents of right-to-work argue the laws send a positive message to businesses wishing to relocate to the state, ultimately providing more jobs and better wages without forcing anyone to join a union. Overall, they said, it helps the economy.
Detractors of right-to-work laws argue that the measures make it harder to maintain union membership by allowing nonunion members to benefit from union collective bargaining agreements without paying dues or becoming members. Ultimately, the decline in unions hurt wages and benefits, Riley said.
And even if the worker isn’t a member, the union has an obligation to represent the worker under US duty of fair representation laws.
“Right-to-work is a statutory law now, if they’re successful in getting it into the constitution, it changes nothing,” Riley said. “I’ve still got a right to organize folks, you’ve still got a right to come work at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and choose not to sign a union card. Then, if you get in trouble, I’ve got to go, by God, by law and represent you. We think it’s unfair.”
Riley said he even agrees with the NRA on membership and dues.
“The NRA even believes that to get the rights and benefits of their organization, you have to pay dues,” Riley said. “I guarantee you that Billy Canary and some of these guys that go play golf on Sunday after they go worship, they can’t go play golf unless they’ve got their dues paid. It’s okay for everybody to pay dues except for those sorry union guys.”
The AFL-CIO has more than 60,000 members in Alabama alone. There are more than 190,000 union members in Alabama that work under collective bargaining agreements, more per capita than any other Southern state, and more than 204,000 workers are represented by unions and benefit from union agreements without paying dues, according to the US Department of Labor.
“The sad thing about it is,” Riley said. “How much do you think they’re going to pay you if they’re ever successful in getting rid of us? They pay them cats the wages and benefits they get to keep people like me out of there. If they ever get rid of the union, we’ll all be out of luck. We think everyone should be high-payed.”
The AFL-CIO has organizing campaigns going at Mercedes in Tuscaloosa, Honda in Lincoln, Hyundai in Montgomery and Airbus in Mobile.
“Right to work does not protect the employers like Honda and Hyundai from being organized,” he said. “We still, under the National Labor Relations Act, have a right to organize. We’ve got active campaigns going. When the employers screw the employees enough, they’ll come calling.”
Riley said he urges Alabamians to vote no on Amendment 8.
“Organized labor has always been the villain,” Riley said. “The Chamber of Commerce hates us. The Business Council of Alabama hates us. But you know what, we’re the No. 1 contributor to the United Way. Our members are choir directors at church. Our members pastor churches.”
The full ballot measure:
“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to declare that it is the public policy of Alabama that the right of persons to work may not be denied or abridged on account of membership or nonmembership in a labor union or labor organization; to prohibit an agreement to deny the right to work, or place conditions on prospective employment, on account of membership or nonmembership in a labor union or labor organization; to prohibit an employer from requiring its employees to abstain from union membership as a condition of employment; and to provide that an employer may not require a person, as a condition of employment or continuation of employment, to pay dues, fees, or other charges of any kind to any labor union or labor organization,” the ballot measure reads.
- A “yes” vote would add the right-to-work language to the constitution. There would be no changes in the effects of right-to-work laws, but it would be harder to reverse the language in the future.
- A “no” vote would leave the constitution and the law unchanged. The State would still be a right-to-work state, but it would not be added to the constitution.