JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Several candidates and union representatives gathered in Carver Park this Labor day to campaign and advocate against Amendment One.
It took both the Tennessee House and Senate to approve it by a 2/3 majority in two separate general assemblies to get it on the ballot this November.
“We need unions because it’s better pay, working conditions, benefits, retirement… if amendment one goes in it’s going to make it harder for unions,” said Georgia Turner, a member of Communication Members of America. “It gives us a voice at our workplace, we have better benefits, better pay, safe workplace… the biggest thing is that we have a voice.”
Those at Monday’s rally say this will take away workers’ rights.
“It’s not as much of a union and non-union bill as corporations versus the working men and women it’s more of that battle it’s the upper class versus the middle class,” said Randy Frye, a member of Local 538, a union for plumbers, pipefitters and business managers. “I think it’s important that we realize and understand the sacrifices that other people have made that I’ve never had to deal with. I’ve never had to stand on the picket line I’ve never had to fight for rights that I already have. Whether you’re union or not, you’re benefitting from the rights that people have sacrificed and died for.”
People there also advocated for more unions in the area.
“It’s people who are on the front lines who really know what is going on in the workplace and who can convey that information back to management effectively so that information is taken into consideration when decisions are made and the best way to do that is by having a union… people who work together to support each other and to support the business,” David Hutton, the president of the Upper East Tennessee Central Labor Council. “Religious rights are workers’ rights, medical freedom is workers;’ rights… retirement benefits that’s workers’ rights, due process in the workplace that’s workers’ rights, all those things- we want to have an opportunity in the workplace to be heard.”
Democratic district three, state senate candidate, Kate Craig says unions benefit more than just the members.
“When we support unions we’re leveling the playing field we’re giving workers a voice. I think we’ve been fed this false narrative that you’re either for workers or businesses, and I’m going to emphasize small businesses even with that,” Craig shared. “We all benefit from unions whether you’ve worked in a job that was unionized or not I had a safe work environment, 40-hour work week, trying to get fair pay, trying to get labor laws, all of this matters… and we’re here on Labor Day all thanks to unions.”
She also says the Right-to-Work law is deceiving.
“The language is confusing, ‘Right to work’ sounds like the ‘I should have a right to go and work.’ They did that intentionally. They want people to go in and vote for it because they want to mislead people but it’s really the right to earn less,” Craig said. “If we pay our workers well, then we have a strong economy… all of that matters… so that false narrative that you’re either for businesses and protecting our downtown, just is not true. We have to do both.”
Amendment One prohibits workers from being hired or fired based on their membership in or refusal to join a labor union.
“Most constitutional amendments seem to be confusing so the bottom line it says ‘To get a job in Tennessee or work for a company, you do not have to be a member of a union.’ You certainly can be, it’s within your rights if you want to… go to town but you don’t,” said Dist. 4 state Senator, Jon Lundberg who is also the chair of the ‘Yes on One Campaign.’ “This is not anti ‘union… it’s pro-business and pro-people. If you’ll look at the states that have done this, the wages are generally higher… look at Tennessee, our wages are higher and they’ve been going up for a long time… our unemployment is very low and it’s been a very good policy.”
The ‘Yes on One’ campaign is being led and pushed heavily by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and former Governor Bill Haslam.
“I think the rights are with the people, bottom line. That’s where it always should be… I don’t think it takes away any rights frankly I think it empowers people. and I think that’s a really important right people need to utilize,” Lundberg said. “If ‘yes on one’ passes overwhelmingly in November, what will change? Nothing. It’s been the policy we’ve gone by for 70 years.”
It would take a majority vote in the General Assembly, then a supermajority in the next session, then approval by the voters to undo adding Right-to-Work to the constitution.
Johnson City Commission Candidate, Jay Emberton was also at the rally. He said, if elected, he would encourage ‘the right kind’ of employers to come to the area.
“The city commission can encourage the right kind of employers to come here. We can incentivize and encourage employers that look to our city first, companies that won’t come in and bring their employees with them, bring people into work in their businesses, simply to take advantage of the cheap cost of living, any kind of tax benefits, Emberton said. “We need to ensure the workers here in town that are already here have opportunities to live to work to their education level.”
News Channel 11 reached out to Dist. 3 Senator, Rusty Crowe for comment. He did not respond to our request Monday. The Republican is running for re-election against Craig in November.