A recent poll asking Tennessee voters whether they would support a proposed constitutional “right-to-work” amendment indicates the measure has strong backing.
According to a Cygnal survey of 500 likely voters conducted from October 7 through 9, 58 percent of respondents said they expect they will vote on November 8 to approve Amendment One, which would enshrine the policy in the Tennessee Constitution. Only 22 percent anticipated they will vote against the proposal and 20 percent had not yet decided. Positivity toward the proposed amendment enlarged to 60 percent when only voters who indicate they “always” vote on ballot initiatives were examined.
Though Republicans are spearheading the policy, supporters span the political spectrum, with 59 percent of both Republicans and Democrats saying they believe they will vote “yes” on the ballot question. Support among independents is 56 percent.
Tennessee first became a right-to-work state in 1947, banning the practice of “agency shop” whereby members of a company’s workforce become contractually obligated to pay dues to a union regardless of whether they want to join it. Advocates for worker choice have ascribed much of the state’s economic dynamism to this statute.
“Right to Work, first and foremost, has shielded Tennessee workers for over half a century from being forced to fund union boss activities just to keep a job,” National Right to Work Committee Vice President John Kalb told The Tennessee Star via email. “Protecting this fundamental freedom has also created a prosperous economy that has been a massive win for Volunteer State workers and businesses, as Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that over the past decade Tennessee has seen a rate of job growth over twice as high as that of the average of the 23 states where workers can be fired for refusing to pay money to a union. Tennessee also has a cost-of-living adjusted disposable income per capita that is nearly $7,000 higher than the average in those non-Right to Work states.”
The National Institute for Labor Relations Research notes that many companies are now investing heavily in Tennessee facilities. Just over the last two months, Daejin Advanced Materials, Georgia-Pacific, TN Composites and McNeilus Truck announced projects expected to create 2,782 jobs in total.
The Volunteer State is one of 28 across the U.S. with right-to-work laws, including all southern states. In the 2010s, even some northern/midwestern states with powerful labor lobbies (e.g., Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin) enacted the policy.
While Tennessee lawmakers likely won’t voluntarily ditch right-to-work anytime soon, Governor Bill Lee (R) and other state leaders are drawing attention to Democrats’ effort to nullify such laws via the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. President Joe Biden has expressed enthusiasm for the proposed federal law, which would also limit workers’ ability to independently negotiate freelance work contracts, promote binding arbitration, and make other union-friendly reforms. The PRO Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives during this session but Republicans have so far prevented a vote in the Senate.
To fortify the strength of the state right-to-work law against any federal changes, Lee and his predecessor Bill Haslam (R) have teamed up with Senators Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty along with many other state and federal legislators to champion the “Yes on 1” campaign.
“What we’re doing right now in Tennessee is working,” Lee said in a video message on the initiative. “Right-to-work is common sense. And with federal efforts to repeal it nationwide, it’s time for Tennesseans to speak up. This November, we have a unique opportunity to make right-to-work a constitutional right here in Tennessee.”
Liberal activists and politicians are denouncing the initiative.
“Essentially, this is an attack on unions, this is an attack on working families, and it’s an attack on your ability to have a voice in the workplace and be represented by a union, should something happen on the job,” Democratic state Senate candidate Charlane Oliver, who is running in the Goodlettsville-based 19th district, said in a recorded monologue Wednesday.
Positive polling numbers for the amendment effort has cheered its leaders, but they have urged supportive Tennesseans to take nothing for granted.
“A new poll shows that an overwhelming majority of Tennesseans support the Right-to-Work!” the campaign tweeted. “But our work isn’t done yet! Make sure to remind your family and friends to vote YES on 1 when they go to the polls in November.”
The Cygnal poll also contained a question about Volunteer Staters’ opinions of Biden’s job performance and revealed significant disapproval. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they view the president unfavorably compared to just over 34 percent who have a positive opinion about him. Voters also voiced optimism about the general direction of Tennessee, with 54 percent viewing it positively and 37 percent viewing it pessimistically.
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