JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Tennessee voters will decide the fate of four constitutional amendments Tuesday, including one that would put “right-to-work” in the state constitution.
Right-to-work is a law that has existed in Tennessee since the 1940s that forbids employers from requiring workers to have union membership for a job.
Amendment 1 on the ballot could codify that law into the state constitution.
A “yes” vote puts the law into the constitution. A “no” vote keeps it out of the constitution, but it would continue to be law in Tennessee.
UA Local 538 Plumbers and Steam Fitters Union Officer Ken Osborne said the law would make it nearly impossible to make any changes to the right-to-work law.
“Future generations are cut out of any opportunity to amend it if they need to,” Osborne said. “It’s going to be there until you have a constitutional convention or until a major miracle comes up and they amend the law.”
He said Amendment 1 is unnecessary because it doesn’t change much for workers or labor unions, as Tennessee would remain a right-to-work state.
“We’ve been here for over 100 years. We can compete under this law,” Osborne said. “Whether it goes into the constitution or not, it doesn’t change the workplace per se.”
Several local Republican state lawmakers have joined the Yes on 1 campaign, including Bristol Senator Jon Lundberg.
Lundberg said federal efforts to undo right-to-work laws nationally spurred the push to get the law into the state constitution.
“Biden has proposed legislation to ban right-to-work, which we think as a state obviously is a bad policy,” Lundberg said. “There’s been several bills that have been introduced to ban and turn that around.”
But Osborne said those attempts have not had the steam to get passed.
“There’s not going to be enough support in there anyway to pass it,” Osborne said. “It’s a herculean effort for something like that to come down.”
Lundberg said putting right-to-work in the constitution gives the state security to keep the policy amid any efforts to overturn it.
“When you put something in the constitution, it says ‘this is so important to us, it’s a fundamental right,'” Lundberg said.
Lundberg said right-to-work has been good for Tennessee workers. He said the policy has brought jobs, and it does not prevent workers from organizing workers.
“It says you have an absolute right to join a union if you want. You just don’t have to be mandated to join a union,” Lundberg said. “We’ve got these huge manufacturing jobs that are coming here. Some are union and some are not, and that is absolutely fine.”
Osborne said right to work hurts Tennessee workers by decreasing union participation, which he said reduces bargaining power for safer working conditions and higher wages.
“That’s why this area always has had low wages,” Osborne said. “It’s sad. It’s generational poverty.”
Amendment 1 is one of four constitutional amendments on the Tennessee ballot.
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