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Alabama plant unionizes in spite of Bentley’s warnings that it could kill jobs

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and state officials visit the Golden Dragon plant
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and state officials visit the Golden Dragon plant

PINE HILL, Ala. – Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley’s efforts to thwart the unionization of the Golden Dragon Copper Tubing plant in Wilcox County failed by one vote, according to a report by the Montgomery Advertiser on Monday.

Earlier this year, Bentley participated in the grand opening of the plant, which was the culmination of an initiative that economic developers had dubbed “Project Hope.”

“We called it ‘Project Hope’ and it has given the people in Wilcox County hope and showed them that if you stick with something you can make it happen,” explained George Alford, manager of the Wilcox County Industrial Development Authority. Wilcox County has long been one of the state’s most economically depressed areas, so landing the $100 million manufacturing facility was a major coup.

But it took some significant coaxing to convince the Chinese company to locate in west Alabama.

According to the Alabama Dept. of Commerce, “The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) provided Pine Hill with an $866,000 grant for improvements to its water and sewer system, augmented by $1.8 million in funding from Economic Development Administration. Plus, the Alabama Department of Transportation constructed an industrial road and bridge to serve the project.”

On top of that, the state put together a capital income tax credits package worth as much as $160 million over the next two decades.

But perhaps more than anything, Alabama’s status as a right-to-work state was extremely attractive to the Asian manufacturer, who hoped to avoid dealing with American labor unions.

The United Auto Workers (AUW) has frequently tried and failed to unionize auto manufacturing facilities in Alabama, most notably the Mercedes plant in Vance.

During an appearance on the Matt Murphy Show in October, Bentley said that the attempted unionization of non-union manufacturing plants in Alabama hurts his ability to recruit companies to locate in the state and threatens to damage Alabama’s budding relationship with Asian companies looking to locate in the U.S.

“We’re a right-to-work state and everyone has the right, if it’s an open election, to decide if they want to unionize, they do,” Bentley said. “That’s what a right-to-work state is. We do it in a legal, open, non-coercive way.

“However, if I’m going to recruit companies — especially from the far east — if I’m going to recruit a new Hyundai plant, or any kind (of auto manufacturer)… if they know that if they come here they’re non-unionized and then ten years later their plant unionizes, they don’t like that, especially Asian companies do not like that. They will not come to a non-right-to-work state. It does upset them… It does hurt in the recruitment of companies to come to Alabama and it does hurt me in creating jobs when a plant is non-unionized and suddenly it becomes a unionized plant.”

But it looks like that is exactly what is happening now at Golden Dragon.

According to the Montgomery Advertiser report, Golden Dragon employees voted 75-74 to join the United Steelworkers union over the vocal objections of Gov. Bentley.

Bentley warned in a letter to employees that joining the union “could have a possible negative impact on your community by discouraging other companies from locating there.”

Bentley’s letter was circulated throughout the company prior to the vote, but employees chose to ignore it by the slimmest of margins.

An objection to the vote was filed with the National Labor Relations Board, which supervises union elections, late last week. That could result in a hearing on the elections, although the Advertiser noted that it is unknown at this time what objections were expressed.

The Wilcox County plant currently employs approximately 150 people with salaries up to the low $40,000s in an area where the median household income is just over $24,000 per year. The plant is expected to grow to as many as 500 employees at full capacity, but it is unclear how the potential unionization of the plant could impact the growth trajectory going forward.

Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

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