Unions rejoice after federal judge strikes down Georgia labor law

Fast food workers in Atlanta want $15 an hour and a union card. John Spink / jspink@ajc.com

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Fast food workers in Atlanta want $15 an hour and a union card. John Spink / jspink@ajc.com

A federal judge nixed part of a Georgia law criticized by the state's labor organizations as an effort to chip away at their influence.

The most contentious part of the 2013 law allowed employees to cancel their union membership at any time, rather than only after a one-year period.

It was backed by Republicans as a way to bolster Georgia’s “right to work” status and burnish the state’s pro-business reputation. Opponents of the legislation, including some leading Democrats, saw it as another threat to the waning power of union groups.

U.S. District Judge William O’Kelley ruled this month that the Georgia rules were "unenforceable" because they were at odds with federal labor rules. He let stand other provisions of the law, including a “statement of rights” that reinforces the right of employers to oppose the recognition of unions.

A spokesman for Attorney General Sam Olens, whose office defended the statute, declined to comment on the judge’s ruling. Labor groups, who challenged the law in court shortly after it took effect in 2013, were quick to declare a resounding victory.

“They spent precious legislative time and money in 2013 going after the working families that make our state great,” said Steve Lomax, the president of a local chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. “Tens of thousands of taxpayer-funded dollars for a long legal fight gained nothing for Georgia citizens.”

And Democrats trumpeted the ruling as well. House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams called it a victory for workers across the state and praised House Democrats who "fought hard against this harmful law that would have made it harder for workers to earn a fair wage."