NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Joel Brauchi is the business manager of the Local IBEW 429 in Nashville. It wasn’t something he planned, but when he was out playing paintball with some friends who were electrical workers, it sealed his fate.
“I came down here to the Local and signed up and never looked back,” Brauchi said.
IBEW stands for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, an international labor union.
Amendment 1 – the right-to-work amendment – is important to people like Brauchi.
The term “right to work” is thrown around a lot in the state, but not everyone understands what it means. In a non-right-to-work state, an employer could force an employee to join a union as a condition of employment. But in Tennessee, a right-to-work state, that’s illegal.
“If you work for an employer that has a union and you wish to join, you certainly can. It doesn’t prevent you from joining a union, if there is a union to join,” Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) said. “It simply says that you can’t be forced to join that union.”
Here’s an example:
Imagine if Employee A paid $100 a month to be in a union, while Employee B did not. Even if B doesn’t pay, they still enjoy many benefits of being in the union—higher salary floor, better benefits, etc.—without being in it. That leaves A wondering why they bother paying $100 each month while B doesn’t have to.
Most Republicans argue this is a good thing because people shouldn’t be forced to pay for and join a union they might not want to be in as a condition to get hired. Plus, it somewhat eliminates the need for a union, since everyone gets lots of the same benefits and nobody has to pay extra.
“What this amendment does is it protects workers in Tennessee,” Johnson said.
Most Democrats argue, that by somewhat eliminating the need for a union, there’s no one to represent workers, thus taking away their power.
“This is an attack on unions as well, it destroys unions and strips that collective power,” state Senate nominee Charlane Oliver (D-Nashville) said. “We all know that collective power is what moves things.”
Most, if not all, unions in Tennessee are against Amendment 1 because, though it doesn’t change laws, it solidifies Tennessee’s right-to-work status into the state constitution.
“To me, I feel like the intent of it is to make it harder on folks down the road if they ever want to get rid of ‘right to work’,” Brauchi said. “It’s just going to make it that much more difficult.”
Brauchi is right, amending the constitution in Tennessee is an extremely difficult process. It has to pass two separate General Assemblies—the first by a majority vote in each chamber and the second by a two-thirds vote in each chamber.
If it passes, it then goes to a vote, where it has yet another hurdle to clean. Not only does an amendment have to have more ‘yes’ votes than ‘no’ votes, but it also has to have at least 50% of the votes cast in the gubernatorial vote to be ‘yes,’ as well.
From the Tennessee Secretary of State’s website:
To determine the number of votes needed to adopt a proposed Constitutional amendment, votes for all candidates for governor are added together and then divided by two. If there are more yes votes than no votes on the proposed amendment and the number of yes votes exceeds 50%+1 of the total votes for governor, the amendment passes and becomes part of the Constitution.
For example, say 10 people vote in this year’s election, and all 10 vote for the governor, but only four of them voted on Amendment I (the others skip the amendments). Of those four votes, all four voted ‘yes’ on the proposed amendment. Even though the outcome of the votes on the amendment was four to zero, it still wouldn’t pass because it didn’t garner at least 50% of all votes cast for governor – it only got 40%, instead of the necessary 50%+1 vote.
If voters do pass Amendment I in November, it would take years and enormous support to undo.
Right now, there’s currently a Republican supermajority supporting this law. If Democrats somehow got a majority in the legislature in the next few years and Amendment I didn’t pass, they could overturn the right-to-work law in the state by a simple majority.
“Adding it to the start constitution, first of all, seems kind of redundant,” Brauchi said. “Second of all, it seems kind of like a waste of taxpayer time and money.”
If it does pass, they would have to go through the complex process of changing the Constitution again.
“It should be,” Johnson said about the difficulty of amending the Constitution. “We take our constitution very seriously, both our federal United States constitution and our state constitution.”