Biden

President Joe Biden addresses the AFL-CIO convention, Tuesday, June 14, 2022, in Philadelphia.

Tennessee voters will decide a referendum in November to make “Right to Work” a permanent part of the state Constitution.

Amendment 1, which will appear on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot, is being pushed by leaders of the GOP-controlled state General Assembly and Republican Gov. Bill Lee, who is also seeking re-election in November.

Tennessee is among 27 states with a Right to Work law that says workers cannot be hired or fired “based on their membership in, affiliation with, resignation from or refusal to join or affiliate with any labor union or employee organization.”

It has been a key part of labor policy in Tennessee since 1947 and has traditionally enjoyed strong support from Republicans, who now hold a supermajority of the seats in the General Assembly.

Even so, Republican lawmakers believe the provision should be enshrined in the state Constitution.

“This amendment will protect the rights to Tennessee workers and strengthen our economy for years to come,” Lee said in a brochure from “Vote Yes on 1,” which is a group that is pushing passage of the referendum.

More information can be found at www.TNRight2Work.com

Former GOP Gov. Bill Haslam is serving as treasurer of that group’s advocacy committee. In its argument for passage of the amendment, the group says Right to Work has led to “higher real income growth, higher employment growth and higher population growth” for Tennessee.

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In its informational campaign, Vote Yes on 1 says President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Democratic leaders in Congress “all want to ban Right to Work so they can force more people to pay union dues that go to get them re-elected.”

Tennessee labor leaders say such rhetoric is simply incorrect and is a partisan scare tactic. Alyssa Hansen, the communication and political director of the Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council, said union members represent a “broad political spectrum” of the state’s voters.

“We hope Tennesseans will see through this argument as fear mongering,” she said.

Hansen said efforts to add the Right to Work mandate to the state Constitution are unnecessary and self-serving. She noted the mandate has been law in Tennessee for 75 years.

“Changing the constitution only serves big business and corporate interests and doesn’t do anything to help working families in Tennessee’s 95 counties,” Hansen said.

AFL-CIO officials also argue the Tennessee Constitution is a “sacred document” and should not be amended as a part of a partisan agenda.

“Our fear is that that this amendment will open the door for any party to cement its policies into the constitution,” Hansen said. “It’s easy to amend the state Constitution, but it’s much more difficult to reverse that decision.”

More information on the Tennessee AFL-CIO’s opposition to the constitutional amendment can be found under a drop-down window at its website at tnaflcio.org.

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Press Senior Reporter

Robert Houk has served as a journalist and photographer at the Press since 1987. He is a recipient of the Associated Press Managing Editors Malcom Law Award for investigative reporting.

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