Politics

Federal Court Strikes Down Part Of Georgia Union Law

 Audio version of this story

A federal judge has struck down part of a Georgia law aimed at allowing employees to end their union memberships at any time. It’s a victory for union supporters in a region that tends to be friendlier to employers.

The Georgia law, passed in 2013, is trumped by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The judge’s ruling is plain and simple, said Charles Shanor, an Emory University law professor.

“Judge O’Kelley, who is no flaming, liberal, pro-union kind of a person, basically says that the state agrees that the Georgia statute and federal law are at odds,” Shanor said.

Shanor said the NLRA, since the time of the New Deal, has allowed unions to negotiate for periods of time in which members can’t just stop paying their dues, usually for up to a year.

“And what Georgia’s saying is: no, the person can turn around and take it back the next day. Well that removes the ability of the union to fiscally plan for operations over, let’s say, the next one year period,” said Shanor, of the state law.

He said it’s not surprising that anti-union lawmakers believed the statute might work.

“They may be thinking ‘Well the individual employee shouldn’t be held hostage to the unions. It’s their money, they ought to be able to stop it at any time.’ That’s not unreasonable, except it isn’t what Congress chose to do with unions,” Shanor said.

He said even if the state appeals, it’s likely to fail again. The federal law will still apply.

Shanor says both pro-union and anti-union laws across the country have been struck down for failing to maintain the balance of the NLRA.

“There are opposing trends. There’s the right-to-work trend for those who do not like unions and really are focused on the individual employee and the employer being strong,” Shanor said, “and then there are folks who are really pro-union in other ways.”

He says Southern states tend to lean against unionization.

“It’s a different policy that Georgia has tried to enact, with a different balance than what congress established. Congress wins those fights. That’s what the supremacy clause of the constitution is about,” he said.

If other states try what Georgia did, they’ll see the same result, said Shanor.