Campaigns for and against Tennessee’s ‘right-to-work’ constitutional amendment heat up

By: - August 10, 2022 6:59 am
Screengrab of former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Gov. Bill Lee in a video for the "Yes on 1" campaign.

Screengrab of former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Gov. Bill Lee in a video for the “Yes on 1” campaign.

A campaign to enshrine Tennessee’s ‘right-to-work’ law in the state constitution released a video on Tuesday from Gov. Bill Lee and former Gov. Bill Haslam urging voters to approve the measure in the upcoming November election. 

“For 75 years, Tennessee has been a right to work state. That means that no Tennessean can be fired based on their choice to join, or not join, a union and pay dues. As governors and as business owners Bill (Lee) and I both know that our right to work law has been a key ingredient in the effort to bring high wage jobs to Tennessee,” Haslam says in the video. 

‘Right to work’ is a policy that supporters say protects workers from being forced to join a union, a law that was enacted in Tennessee in 1947 — one of 27 states with ‘right to work’ laws. Nine have enshrined the law in state constitutions. 

But  the Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council, which is leading opposition to the constitutional amendment, says the term ‘right-to-work’ is misleading and is waging a campaign featuring Tennessee union members pushing back.

“Unlike “Yes on 1,” our ads don’t feature two billionaires telling Tennesseans what to do,” said Alyssa Hansen, communications and political director for the Tennessee AFL-CIO. “ As the leading voice for Tennessee’s working families, we’re focused on undertaking a grassroots effort that brings together union members, affiliated organizations and community supporters.” 

Hansen said ads were launched on Monday in conjunction with the Tennessee Democratic Party explaining opposition to the ‘right-to-work’ amendment.

Digital flyer from the Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council with language opposing the right-to-work amendment.
Digital flyer from the Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council with language opposing the right-to-work amendment.

The “Vote Yes on 1” website states, “Research shows that right-to-work states like Tennessee have higher real income growth, employment growth, and population growth.” The AFL-CIO disputes that claim, calling ‘right to work’ laws “an attack on working families.” 

‘Right to work’ laws grew out of the 1930s and 1940s high water mark for labor organizing — and labor disputes. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, also known as the Wagner Act,  allowed trade unions to represent employees in private sector businesses for the purpose of collective bargaining. The law has periodically been challenged since, with the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act permitting states to establish ‘right to work’ laws. 

In recent years, federal legislation to both protect and abolish right to work laws has been introduced in Congress. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, has twice introduced legislation called the “National Right-To-Work Act,” while the “Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2021,” or “PRO Act,”  passed the U.S. House in 2021.

Legislation to approve the addition of the constitutional amendment to the November ballot passed in the last two legislative years, as required by law.

Lee and Haslam are leading the  “Vote Yes on 1” leadership team, which includes a number of Republican elected officials including Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton, House Republican Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs. 

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Holly McCall
Holly McCall

Holly McCall has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. She covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal. She has served as political analyst for WZTV Fox 17 and provided communications consulting for political campaigns at all levels, from city council to presidential. Holly brings a deep wealth of knowledge about Tennessee’s political processes and players and likes nothing better than getting into the weeds of how political deals are made.

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