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Southern States Fight Back Against Union Wins in South

For five decades, the southern United States has been an attractive location for automakers to open plants thanks to generous tax breaks and cheaper, non-union labor. However, after decades of failing to unionize automakers in the South, the United Auto Workers dealt a serious blow to that model by winning a landslide union victory at Volkswagen.

In an effort to fight back, three southern states have gotten creative: they passed laws barring companies from receiving state grants, loans and tax incentives if the company voluntarily recognizes a union or voluntarily provides unions with employee information. The laws also allow the government to claw back incentive payments after they were made. While these laws are very similar, each law has unique nuances. If you are in an impacted state, you should seek local counsel.

In 2023, Tennessee was the first state to pass such a law. This year, Georgia and Alabama followed suit.

So why this push? In 2023, the American Legislative Exchange Council (“ALEC”), a nonprofit organization of conservative state legislators and private sector representatives who draft and share model legislation for distribution among state governments, adopted Tennessee’s law as model legislation. In fact, the primary sponsor of Tennessee’s bill was recognized as an ALEC Policy Champion in March 2023.

ALEC’s push comes as voluntary recognition of unions gains popularity as an alternative to fighting unions. We recently saw this with the high-profile Ben & Jerry’s voluntary recognition. Will this Southern strategy work to push back against growing union successes? Time will tell.