The campaign for the constitutional “right-to-work” amendment appearing on this year’s Tennessee election ballot has garnered vocal opposition from labor unions and other left-wing thought leaders. Supporters could have expected that. Less predictably, a Nashville-based Associated Press reporter railed against the effort this week.
In a Twitter post, AP writer Kimberlee Kruesi opined strongly against Governor Bill Lee’s pronouncements on the issue, characterizing them as “false” and “outrageous spin.”
Lee blasted out a statement to voters about the state’s right-to-work policy on Tuesday. The governor explained that, for 75 years, the Volunteer State has prohibited agency shop, i.e., worker-contract provisions that force employees to pay dues to a labor association whether or not a worker opts to join the group. Lee then asked Tennesseans to vote in favor of Amendment 1 this autumn to enshrine the protection against agency shop in the state constitution.
“On Election Day, Tennesseans need to VOTE YES on Amendment 1 to protect right-to-work and FIGHT BACK against this Left-wing power grab,” he wrote. “If Amendment 1 passes, we will protect our right to work for generations. If it doesn’t, hard-working Tennesseans will be FORCED to fall in line, pay union dues, and join organizations that give payouts to political cronies.”
Kruesi reproved the governor for anticipating that forced unionism would result from residents choosing not to insert right-to-work language into the Tennessee Constitution.
“This is false,” she complained. “If Amendment 1 fails, literally no one in Tennessee will be forced to join a union or pay union dues.”
Her editorializing against the governor’s position drew much attention. It spurred copious retweets and “likes” from such institutions as the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus and figures such as Knox County Democratic Party Chair Matt Shears, Nashville Banner Editor Steve Cavendish, ScoopNashville Editor Jason Steen, Knoxville-area Democratic state Senate candidate Bryan Langan, Johnson City-area Democratic former state House candidate Brad Batt, Democratic Knoxville City Council candidate Cameron Brook, Knoxville News Sentinel reporter Becca Wright, Chattanooga Times Free Press Assistant News Editor Shelby Farmer, News Channel 5 Journalist Emily West and Forward Thinking Democracy founder Elliott Crow.
And, yes, organized labor also appreciated Kruesi’s commentary. Knoxville-based Teamsters Local 519 and Covington-area Tennessee Education Association leader Kathryn Vaughn also gave her sentiment a like.
Kruesi followed up her tweet with a self-reply stating, “I know it’s election season and all that, but this is pretty outrageous spin on the potential consequences of Amendment 1 not passing.”
Yet Lee, his predecessor Bill Haslam, and other supporters of Amendment 1 have explained why they believe Tennesseans would be more vulnerable to agency shop if the right-to-work policy isn’t added to the state constitution. They’ve cited federal Democratic lawmakers’ efforts to abrogate all state laws banning agency shop by passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. Right-to-work advocates have reasoned that a constitutional law would be more difficult for Congress to nullify than a simple statute would.
At the conclusion of Lee’s online message, he declared that economic data strongly indicates states have benefited significantly by adopting right-to-work policies. The National Institute for Labor Relations Research observed that many companies are making major investments in Tennessee facilities and ascribed some of that news to the right-to-work law. Projects that Daejin Advanced Materials, Georgia-Pacific, TN Composites and McNeilus Truck announced in the last two months are expected to create 2,782 jobs altogether.
Polling suggests Amendment 1’s chances of passing are strong. An early October survey of 500 likely voters conducted by Cygnal found that 58 percent of respondents expect to vote in the proposal’s favor this November. Only 22 percent said they would vote in opposition and 20 percent said they were undecided.
Although right-to-work is often characterized as a “conservative” or GOP policy priority, the Cygnal poll indicates support for the amendment is strong irrespective of party affiliation: 59 percent of both Republican and Democratic respondents said they intend to vote for it, while 56 percent of independents expect they will support it.
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