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Bentley: Unionization of Alabama auto plants would damage ability to recruit 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

During an appearance on the Matt Murphy Show Monday morning, Alabama governor Robert 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.

The United Auto Workers (UAW) has targeted Mercedes-Benz’s Tuscaloosa plant for unionization, but has so far failed to gain much traction. However, they recently launched a local UAW chapter and asked Mercedes’ parent company to recognize it as workers’ bargaining agent. The workers will likely vote soon to decide if they want UAW to represent them.

Dennis Williams, who was elected UAW president earlier this year, told the Wall Street Journal that what happens in Tuscaloosa “is important to the future of the labor movement.”

Murphy asked Bentley if the potential unionization of non-union plants in Alabama would be a good thing “for the expansion of manufacturing jobs, specifically auto-manufacturing jobs in the state.”

“No, it’s not good,” Bentley replied. “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. 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 they’re 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.”

Bentley’s response is particular concerning because Japanese companies have been pouring resources into Alabama at a stunning rate in recent years, accelerating their growth and branching into new sectors of the economy.

According to Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield, “over 70 Japanese companies have chosen to invest capital to operate in Alabama and to employ over 12,000 Alabama workers,” as a direct result of the state’s right-to-work laws and low tax, low regulation business climate.

Alabama has also become one of the nation’s top auto manufacturing centers, with Mercedes, Honda and Hyundai now all operating in the state.

“When I was in Europe I talked to a new automobile company that is not in the United States about coming to Alabama,” Bentley told Murphy.

The governor was not specific about what company it was, but they will no doubt be watching what happens with the attempted unionization of the Tuscaloosa plant when making the decision on where they will locate.

Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

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