Tennessee House and Senate leaders introduced a resolution Wednesday that would add Tennessee’s Right to Work law to the state constitution.
The legislation is Senate Joint Resolution 648.
Tennessee’s Right to Work statute has been state law since 1947, the Senate Republican Caucus said. It provides workers cannot be hired or fired based on their membership in, affiliation with, resignation from, or refusal to join or affiliate with any labor union or employee organization.When introduced in 1947, supporters of the bill argued that it would “be of great advantage to the average member of organized labor.” It also protects the rights of those who choose not to join a union.
If passed by the General Assembly in 2020, SJR 648 would need to pass by a two-thirds majority during the 2021 or 2022 legislative session in order to appear on the ballot for a statewide referendum in November 2022. The amendment would become part of the state constitution if adopted by a majority vote in the governor’s election.
There is strong public support for the resolution, the caucus said. An October 2019 Beacon Center survey reported that 68 percent of Tennesseans favor the Right to Work policy, while 13 percent are opposed, and 19 percent remain undecided.
Senate sponsors are State Sen. Brian Kelsey, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Ken Yager, and Sens. Mike Bell, Bo Watson and Paul Bailey.
Twenty-seven other states have Right to Work laws, and nine of those have passed constitutional amendments, including neighboring states Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama. A constitutional amendment would offer greater protection for workers against such repeal efforts, the caucus said.
“Tennessee’s Right to Work laws have been critical to producing the economic growth our state has experienced over the last decade,” said McNally. “I appreciate everything Senator Kelsey has done to support the right to work in Tennessee.”
The resolution has gained support from prominent Tennessee business leaders.
“Rhetoric from national candidates against state right to work laws has caught the attention of small businesses across Tennessee,” said Jim Brown, Tennessee State Director for the National Federation of Independent Business.
“The Tennessee Chamber and our business community has remained strongly supportive of our status as a Right to Work state which is a key component establishing the Volunteer state as friendly to business,” said Bradley Jackson, President and CEO of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Beacon Impact, the advocacy partner of the Beacon Center of Tennessee also supports the resolution.
“While Right to Work has been the long-standing public policy of Tennessee, it is increasingly under attack,” said Justin Owen, CEO of Beacon Impact. “It is imperative that we protect the fundamental right of Tennessee workers to decide whether or not to pay union dues for generations to come, and the best way to do that is to recognize this right in our state constitution.”
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Jason M. Reynolds has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist at outlets of all sizes.