Tennessee State Capitol. (Photo: Ray Di Pietro)
Just like delicious barbeque and great music, right-to-work is a Tennessee tradition. Quite simply, this law is about all Tennesseans’ ability to get and keep a job regardless of whether they join a union and pay dues or not. This has been the policy of our state for so long we have taken it for granted, especially as so many states have recently fought to enact similar laws. Tennesseans expect the decision about whether or not to join a union and pay dues is theirs to make, and they appreciate that they cannot be fired for joining a union or refusing to do so.
Unfortunately, there is a looming movement to repeal this fundamental right. The Biden administration has called for banning right-to-work nationally. Certain members of Congress have proposed legislation to strip Americans of this right. Some legislators in neighboring Virginia, which has been a right-to-work state since 1947 just like Tennessee, are trying to repeal it.
Despite these attacks, this right provides a significant economic advantage to Tennesseans. Right-to-work states like ours have higher real-income growth, employment growth, and population growth. It helps make Tennessee a magnet for companies and residents fleeing other states for greener pastures. Losing this status would be a devastating blow to our economy.
Imagine if Tennessee lawmakers joined these right-to-work repeal efforts. Doing so would eliminate some of our state’s most important economic advantages and would trample on worker freedom. There are few rights more sacred to Americans than the choice about whether or not to join and be forced to pay dues to any organization, unions included. The great thing about right-to-work is that it protects both union and non-union members alike. No Tennessean can be required to join a union and pay dues in order to get or keep a job. And no Tennessean can be fired for being a union member. That’s something on which those on both the Left and the Right should be able to agree.
So how do we protect this right and the economic benefits that stem from it? The best way is to place it in the Tennessee Constitution. This is akin to what Tennesseans did with a state income tax. In the early 2000s, state legislators refused to enact an income tax, knowing the dire economic consequences of doing so. But they didn’t stop there. They asked voters to ban an income tax by passing a constitutional amendment. And voters did just that, passing the amendment by a two-to-one margin in 2014.
Lawmakers began the similar process of placing right-to-work in the state Constitution last year. And if they vote in support of the amendment again this year, voters will have a chance to ratify it and make their voices heard in the November 2022 general election.
There is tremendous support among Tennessee voters for this move. An October 2019 survey showed that 68 percent of them would vote to place right-to-work in the state Constitution, with only nine percent saying they would oppose the amendment. Voters understand we cannot take this right for granted. By recognizing it as a fundamental constitutional right, we can protect it not just for them, but for generations of Tennesseans to come. And we can keep the Volunteer State one of the freest and economically robust in our entire nation.
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