NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – Tennessee voters will decide if right-to-work becomes part of the state constitution, but several Northeast Tennessee lawmakers are already backing that effort.
Gov. Bill Lee serves as the chairman for Vote Yes on 1. Right-to-work laws give workers the right to employment regardless of union member status.
“This November, we have a unique opportunity to preserve freedom by securing right-to-work in our state constitution,” Lee said in a Wednesday morning Twitter video.
Lee also announced this week was Right to Work Week.
Vote Yes on 1 refers to Amendment 1 on the November ballot. Northeast Tennessee lawmakers Rep. Rebecca Alexander (Washington Co.), Rep. David Hawk (Greene Co.), Rep. Gary Hicks (Hawkins Co.), Rep. Tim Hicks (Washington Co.), and Sen. Jon Lundberg (Sullivan Co.) all serve as county chairmen on the campaign.
News Channel 11 spoke to Hawk and Hicks about their support for the right-to-work amendment.
Right-to-work has been Tennessee law since 1947, but Hicks believes putting it in the state constitution would protect it from legal challenges.
“It would put it actually into the constitution, and we would have it for generations to come,” Hicks said.
Hicks said maintaining right-to-work could be an economic driver for the state.
“It’s important for East Tennesseans, especially since our growth of the last couple of years,” Hicks said. “It just makes Tennessee a very business-friendly state.”
Hicks said protecting right-to-work could be part of a package aimed at getting people back into the workforce. Along with a greater emphasis on trade and vocational school funding, he said the state could get more young people into trade jobs.
Actually changing the constitution is no small matter. It requires both Tennessee House and Senate to approve it by 2/3 majority in two separate general assemblies, then the amendment must be approved by the voters.
“It’s a minimum of a three year process, can go as long as an eight year process to get a constitutional amendment going forward,” said Rep. David Hawk.
Labor unions vehemently oppose right-to-work laws. On its website, the AFL-CIO said right-to-work laws make it harder for workers to form unions and bargain for better wages and conditions.
Hawk disagreed, saying right-to-work gives workers more freedom to choose.
“If anything, it helps the average person to be able to make their choices on what work conditions they want to have,” Hawk said.
The right-to-work amendment passed in the 111th and 112th Tennessee General Assemblies. That means the amendment will be on the ballot on Nov. 8 this year.