‘Right to Work’ amendment heads to Tennessee voters

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(Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee voters will have the choice next year to enshrine its “right to work” law in the state’s Constitution.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly on Thursday successfully finished advancing the proposed constitutional amendment to ensure it makes it onto the 2022 ballot. The effort had been ongoing since the resolution was first submitted last year.

The resolution’s main sponsor, Republican Rep. Brian Kelsey, said the constitutional amendment is needed because it will make it harder to repeal or weaken the “right to work” law. Supporters have repeatedly pointed to Virginia as a warning, where Democrats recently took over the Statehouse and considered repealing its “right to work” law. However, to date, Virginia’s state lawmakers have not done so.

Opponents counter that the measure discourages workers from joining unions, while others argue that right-to-work states have more workplace fatalities and lower wages.

A “right-to-work” law prohibits a company and a union from signing a contract that would require workers to pay dues or fees to the union that represents them.

Currently, 27 states have enacted such laws and nearly 10 of those have put such provisions into their state constitutions. Tennessee’s law has been in place since 1947.

Unions have little control in Tennessee and have previously lost several high-profile organizing efforts. Workers at the Nissan manufacturing plant in Smyrna rejected a plantwide union under the United Auto Workers in 2001 and 1989. Meanwhile, at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, workers also rebuffed a factory-wide union under the UAW in 2019 and 2014 — though the margins were much closer.

Tennessee does have a big union presence at an American automaker. The General Motors plant in Spring Hill has about 3,000 production and skilled trades workers represented by UAW.

The machinists union represents about 47,000 tool and die makers and 3,000 automotive manufacturing workers at companies that include Ford, Penske Truck, Hyundai and Chevrolet.

Amending the state constitution is a lengthy process in Tennessee. Proposed changes must pass by a majority in both chambers during one two-year General Assembly, and then pass by at least two-thirds of the vote in the next. The amendment would then go before the voters in the year of the next gubernatorial election.

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