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AFL-CIO criticizes governor for signing bill restricting voluntary recognition of unions

The Alabama AFL-CIO criticized Gov. Kay Ivey’s decision to sign SB231 and effectively ban voluntary recognition of labor unions.

Gov. Kay Ivey speaks about signing SB231 at a Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce event.
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On May 13, Gov. Kay Ivey announced to a meeting of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce that she had signed SB231. The new law punishes businesses that choose to voluntarily recognize unions by forbidding them from receiving any grants, loans, or tax credits from state and local governments.

The bill’s sponsors in the state Legislature, including primary sponsor Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, have claimed that the bill is required to make sure all union elections are done via secret ballot, and not by card check. A card check is when an entity checks how many workers in a bargaining unit have signed union authorization cards, and they typically precede voluntary recognition of a union.

Ivey repeated that reasoning in her speech, saying that the bill will “require any business that receives incentives to hold an election by secret ballot.”

However, as APR explained in a prior article covering SB231 being passed by the state House, workers still need to turn in a petition signed by 30 percent of workers before requesting that the National Labor Relations Board run a secret ballot election. This is usually done by a card check.

In her speech, Ivey also made it clear that she views the United Auto Workers as an outside intruder threatening one of Alabama’s “crown jewels” — the auto industry.

“Huntsville, Tuscaloosa, they’re not Detroit,” she said, referring to the ongoing union election at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa County.

Mercedes employee Jeremy Kimbrell has repeatedly said that the ongoing unionization drive is led by Mercedes employees, an assertion which has been supported by recent coverage of the campaign. In an interview with labor journalist Alex Press, he joked that “Mercedes is our best organizer,” not any out-of-state UAW staff members.

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While Ivey mentioned wanting the workers at Mercedes to vote in this week’s election, she also said that “we will not let this threat from Detroit [the United Auto Workers] deter our progress, deter our hope and deter our folks’ prosperity.”

In a statement released on Tuesday, Bren Riley, the president of the Alabama chapter of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, or AFL-CIO, said: “It’s funny to me that Governor Ivey and the sponsors of this bill try to paint unions as the outsider.”

Riley pointed out how the “cookie-cutter” bill was promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a national conservative organization that is based in Virginia. Almost identical bills were passed in both Georgia and Tennessee before Ivey signed SB235.

“Instead of using this legislative session to help families who are sick and can’t see a doctor because they don’t have any health insurance or funding programs to feed little kids who don’t have a stable source of food once the school year ends, these politicians are choosing to spend time to slowly chip away at working peoples’ freedom to form unions,” Riley said.

The secretary-treasurer of the national AFL-CIO, Fred Redmond, called the bill “yet another sad and sinister attack on the rights of working people by self-serving politicians, and … as bad for Alabama’s business as it is for Alabama’s workers.” 

“It disenfranchises and demeans Alabama’s workers who want the freedom to improve their workplaces and their lives,” Redmond said. “And it also strips business owners of their freedoms by limiting how they choose to conduct their labor relations.”

Chance Phillips is a reporting intern at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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