Right-to-work amendment passes Senate
by Tim Lockette
Mar 07, 2013 | 6911 views |  0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate voted 22-10 to add "right-to-work" wording to the state Constitution on Thursday, a move that would still need approval of the House and, eventually, the voters.

"It makes industry looking to some into the state more confident about Alabama," said Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, the bill's sponsor.

Alabama has had a right-to-work law since 1953. That law allows people to work in unionized workplaces without paying union dues or similar "agency fees" charged to workers who don't join the union.

Dial's amendment would make that wording part of the Constitution of 1901, meaning it could be repealed only with approval of the Legislature and a statewide amendment vote.

Most Southern states are right-to-work states. Proponents of right-to-work measures say they've helped the region attract manufacturing jobs that might otherwise have gone to states with a strong union presence. Critics say the lack of a strong union presence, and the ability to hire at low wages, have kept Alabama's average personal income below the national average.

On the Senate floor, Democrats questioned the need for an amendment to reinforce a law that's already on the books.

"I don't think it's necessary to take something that's already a statute and put it into the Constitution at the expense of the taxpayers," said Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, who led the opposition to the bill.

Dial said the amendment, which would be voted on in the 2014 general election, would cost the state about $100,000 in advertising. Jerry Fielding, R-Sylacauga; Del Marsh, R-Anniston; and Dial all voted for the amendment.

The amendment saw long and sometimes heated debate in the Senate during its Tuesday and Thursday sessions — but right-to-work was only part of the controversy. GOP lawmakers rankled Democrats last week when they hastily amended House Bill 84, now known as the Alabama Accountability Act.

That bill began life as a measure to allow schools to opt out of certain state regulations, for educational purposes. But in the final hours before passage, it was amended to add tax credits for parents to send their children to private schools. The bill is currently before the Alabama Supreme Court.

Democrats in both houses say they plan to slow down the action in the Legislature, in response to last week's snub by the Republican supermajority. Due to the Democratic filibuster, Dial's bill was the only piece of legislation passed in the Senate Thursday morning.

"We are trying to slow down the process, I'll admit that," Singleton said after the vote on Dial's amendment. Singleton and other Democrats said the goal was to make sure every bill got a proper airing in public.

"We want to slow it down so people can see how the process works," Singleton said.

Dial said his bill moved to the front of the line this week largely because Republican leaders thought he'd be able to handle the filibuster.

"They wanted someone who had a good rapport with both sides, somebody who could keep it calm," he said. Now in his ninth term in the Legislature, Dial was a Democrat until 2010.

Singleton said he wasn't sure when the Democratic slowdown would end.

"We can keep it up until the end of the session if we have to," he said.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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