From Right to Work to Slavery, Tennessee Set to Vote on Four Constitutional Amendments

by Jon Styf


Tennessee residents will be asked to vote on four different constitutional amendments.

In order to pass, the amendments will need to receive approval from more than 50% of those voting in the Nov. 8 statewide election after going through an extensive process to reach the ballot.

The four initiatives include a right-to-work amendment, a gubernatorial succession plan, a ban on indentured servitude for those incarcerated, and the end of a law that prevents ministers from being elected to public office.

Several of the amendments are formalizing rules that are already followed, including the rule regarding ministers and the right-to-work amendment.

The rule against ministers holding public office was found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1978 but the words were never formally removed from the Tennessee Constitution.

Tennessee has had a right-to-work law in place since 1947 and is one of 27 states with such laws, which allow workers across the state to elect whether or not they would like to join a union. Without a law in place, unions can require membership as a condition of employment as they do federally.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is the statewide chairman of the “Yes on 1” supporting the measure with a campaign committee that includes former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

“The right-to-work law simply means you cannot be forced to join a union and pay dues in order to get or keep your job, nothing more,” former Tennessee Sen. Brian Kelsey, who sponsored the amendment, wrote last week.

Many, including Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus Press Secretary Brandon Puttbrese, oppose the measure.

“”The anti-worker ballot initiative to amend Tennessee’s constitution will further destroy the freedom workers have to negotiate for better pay and benefits,” Puttbrese told The Center Square previously. “Policies like this tip the scales of power toward big corporations. That’s not a free market — that’s market manipulation against workers, union and non-union.

“Tennesseans already earn $10,000 less a year than the average American worker. This amendment will only make our low-wage, no-benefit economy worse. We strongly encourage every Tennessean to vote for better wages and benefits by voting NO on Amendment 1.”

Tennessee previously did not have a gubernatorial succession plan if a governor was incapacitated. The amendment would temporarily put the state’s lieutenant governor in charge without requiring that person to resign from his or her current post.

A “Yes on 3” campaign with bipartisan support would change the state’s constitution to say “That slavery and involuntary servitude are forever prohibited in this State. Nothing in this section shall prohibit an inmate from working when the inmate has been duly convicted of a crime.”

The state Constitution currently has an exception where work can be required of those convicted of a crime. The “Yes on 3” support includes the mayors of Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, Knox County and Chattanooga along with state lawmakers from both parties.

“There is absolutely no place in the world where slavery should exist, and certainly not within the Tennessee State Constitution,” said Rep. Bob Freeman, Co-Chair of the Yes On 3 Advisory Board. “I am honored to work with my Republican and Democratic colleagues who overwhelmingly share the common belief that ‘Words Matter.’ This vote is not about left or right, it’s about right or wrong.”

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Jon Styf is an award-winning editor and reporter who has worked in Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan in local newsrooms over the past 20 years, working for Shaw Media, Hearst and several other companies. Styf is a reporter for The Center Square.
Photo “Tennessee Capitol” by Reading Tom. CC BY 2.0.


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9 Thoughts to “From Right to Work to Slavery, Tennessee Set to Vote on Four Constitutional Amendments”

  1. Susan West

    Minister should be allowed to run for office just like actors, peanut farmers, and wrestlers can. As far as right to work, no one should be forced to join a union. They make it look so good and helpful, like the government offering “free” thing for Americans. Nothing is free and people should see who is behind the unions before they join, then make a responsible decison. Lt. Gover taking place of Governor if necessary is a no-brainer. Why would he/she give up anything else especially if it is not permanent position? When was the last time we had slaves in TN? And if someone is convicted of a crime they should be incarcerated and working in the prison.

  2. Chuck conly

    Man,you democrats can twist any facts that don’t agree with communism. If workers aren’t satisfied, they CAN unionize. This just makes freedom from forcedly supporting and obeying
    a communist organization.

  3. JRin

    When will Tennesseans get to vote on a State Constitutional Amendment to allow constitutional carry?

  4. Karen L Bracken

    The union only cares about getting more dues in their bank account not the worker. Any law that favors unions is not a law that will benefit Tennessee workers. How would you like your hard earned money going to union dues then the union using that money to support candidates you doo not support. Tennessean may make less but our cost of living is a lot less than other states as well. I would rather keep cost of living low because we come out equal in standard of living. If you look at people in CA who make a lot more than people in TN but their cost of living affords most regular folks a lower standard of living than we have here in TN. WAKE UP. Vote to insure Tennesseans have the right to decide if they want to pay dues to the corrupt unions.

    1. william delzell

      The so-called Right to Work for Less law does not protect an employee’s right to work; rather, it enables the EMPLOYER to under-pay his or her workers in both wages and in benefits. Workers have ALWAYS had the right to seek work. The problem is that this law that you defend makes that work often bad and dangerous. Workers want an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work; and that also means medical benefits as well as a living wage that will support a worker and his/her family from poverty.

  5. 83ragtop50

    I disagree with amendment 3. Why should convicts get to sit around all day doing nothing or pumping iron or reading law books in order to bring suit? All the while we taxpayers are paying for room and board and other items. An inmate should be required to work.

    And I always love it when a biased politician throws out statements such as this one in the above article:
    ‘Tennesseans already earn $10,000 less a year than the average American worker. This amendment will only make our low-wage, no-benefit economy worse. We strongly encourage every Tennessean to vote for better wages and benefits by voting NO on Amendment 1’

    Overpriced locations such as New York, California, etc. bias the calculation of an average upwards. A muchb etter measurement would be the comparison to the median income. That is the point where half of the states are higher and half of the states are lower. But this in itself is also a poor measurement because it does not take into consideration the cost of living by location. For example, a one room apartment in New York City can cost $5,000 a month. So this guy can shut up about average earnings.

  6. Randall Davidson

    No slavery in a hundred years. Useless legislation.

    1. Ron W

      Slaves were and are always disarmed and kept that way. In that historical aspect, there are slave states and cities in defiance of the 13th and 14th Amendments.

  7. Randy

    We seem to spend a great deal of time, money and effort on fixing bad laws. We should focus our efforts on electing better representatives rather than snake oil salesmen. Less legislation and no more bad legislation would benefit us all.