February 14, 2014 10:43:09 AM
JACKSON -- Mississippi senators want to restrict some union organizing and picketing practices, as well as local laws that might benefit workers.
The Republican-led Senate passed three bills Thursday on mostly party-line votes. The bills now go to the House.
Senate Bill 2473 says that it's illegal to coerce a business into staying neutral in a union drive or allowing workers to choose union representation by signing cards instead of by secret ballot. Businesses could sue anyone who engaged in coercion.
Union supporters have been pushing Nissan Motor Co. to declare its neutrality in a push by the United Auto Workers to unionize the Japanese automaker's Canton plant. Sen. John Polk, R-Hattiesburg, said the bill wasn't specifically aimed at Nissan, but said he was opposed to pressure on companies.
"What we're trying to do is prevent that from happening and make sure everyone knows Mississippi is the right place to grow your business," said Polk, who owns a sausage company with a factory in Magee.
It's not clear what would constitute coercion. Polk said informational picketing would not. When asked if a boycott would, he said courts would have to sort that out.
Robert Shaffer, the president of the Mississippi AFL-CIO union federation, said in a phone interview that union supporters believe the bills are overly broad and would be used to illegally intimidate union supporters.
"The sheriff goes and arrests them and scares them to death," Shaffer said of one possible scenario. "We might win in federal court seven or eight years later, but the damage is done."
Another measure says workers can't engage in mass pickets that block entrances or damage property. Shaffer said National Labor Relations Board rules already say workers can't block entrances.
A third measure, Senate Bill 2797, said cities and counties can't force contractors to use union labor. Polk said that bill also bars localities from forcing contractors to pay more than the federal minimum wage.
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