NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and former Gov. Bill Haslam have teamed up in an effort to enshrine the state’s right-to-work law in the state constitution.
However, it will be up to voters this November as to whether the proposed amendment will be added.
The state’s right-to-work law prohibits workers from being hired or fired based on their membership in or refusal to join a labor union. The law has been on the books since 1947.
The General Assembly passed legislation to put the proposed amendment on the November ballot.
Supporters of right-to-work say it produces economic growth and protects the right to work without having to join a union. Opponents contend it violates workers’ right to organize and leads to lower wages and more dangerous workplaces due to lack of union representation.
“Voting yes on 1 means that Tennessee workers can work in the environment that they choose and that Tennessee jobs will continue to be created, and our economy will continue to lead the country,” Lee said in the advertisement, which is supposed to run statewide between now and Election Day.
“We’ve had a lot of success recruiting jobs to Tennessee,” Haslam said. “Great place to live, great place to work, but one of the fundamental reasons is we’re a right to work state and we need to stay that way.”
However, a local union member believes there is no reason to codify the law in the state constitution.
“It doesn’t change the law,” said Ken Osborne, UA Local 538 Plumbers and Steam Fitters officer. “It just keeps it from being encoded into the state constitution where you can never make an amendment to it one way or the other for generations.”
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.
“Why do you lock yourself in like that?” Osborne asked.
During the Yes on 1 ad, Lee mentions federal efforts to repeal right-to-work.
Sen. Jon Lundberg (R–Bristol), a county chairman for the Vote Yes on 1 campaign, says one of those efforts could be the Protecting the Right to Organize or PRO Act.
“Pelosi passed the PRO Act in the House, which would repeal right-to-work protections nationwide,” Lundberg said.
The legislation would allow unions to require non-union workers in their workplaces to still pay dues, covering the costs of collective bargaining.
Lundberg says right to work has been in key in attracting large manufacturers to the state.
“We’ve been much more attractive particularly as other states have rolled those protections back,” the state senator said.
But Osbourne says right-to-work laws hurt the ability of workers to bargain.
“It has hurt, I believe overall, the workers of Tennessee because it’s kept their wages down,” Osborne said. He also said a campaign opposing the amendment has already started.
Osbourne said the Vote No on 1 campaign will soon have billboards along major highways in Tennessee.