Live from Music Row, Tuesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed the head of Institute for the American Worker, Vinnie Vernuccio to the newsmaker line to discuss how Tennessee is leading the way in right-to-work reform.
Leahy: On the newsmaker line right now Vinnie Vernuccio who’s the head of the Institute for the American Worker, and also with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Good morning, Vinnie.
Vernuccio: Hey, good morning! Thanks for having me on.
Leahy: Okay, so Vinnie Vernuccio, it’s got to be one of the greatest names ever, don’t you think?
Vernuccio: And I do labor policy, so there you go. (Leahy laughs) And to make matters worse, I’m a lawyer and I’m from New York, so go figure.
Leahy: I’m shocked you’re from New York, Vinnie. (Laughter)
Gulbransen: Do we have the Godfather scene we could play or something?
Vernuccio: You have a lot to teach us about labor down there in Tennessee. New York could take a lot of lessons from you guys.
Leahy: Brooklyn or Queens?
Leahy: Manhattan! I didn’t know they had any Vinnie’s in Manhattan. I thought they were all from Brooklyn or Queens.
Gulbransen: We already found the other one. There are only two people that ever grew up in Manhattan. One is named Stefani Germanotta, and apparently, Vinnie’s the other one.
Leahy: Vinnie, where’d you go to law school?
Vernuccio: Ave Maria Law School. When it was in Michigan.
Leahy: Ave Maria Law School? That’s Tom Monaghan pizza tiger, the former Domino’s Pizza guy.
Vernuccio: It is.
Leahy: Very interesting. When did you graduate from Ave Maria?
Leahy: Are you like a St. John’s University guy or what, where’d you go to undergrad?
Vernuccio: A little cow college in upstate New York called SUNY, if you’re not familiar with it or a baseball fan, it’s a half-hour outside of Cooperstown.
Leahy: So I’m from upstate New York, and Aaron is from, Queens Long Island.
Gulbransen: Hey, hey, Brooklyn.
Leahy: Sorry. So we moved here, we both got smart, and moved to Tennessee. When are you moving to Tennessee, Vinne?
Vernuccio: I don’t know. Tennessee’s looking better and better. Some of the reforms that they got teed up and all the stuff that you guys have passed, it’s looking really attractive.
Leahy: Do you live in New York now or in Michigan?
Vernuccio: I live in Virginia.
Leahy: You’re smart because the worst right-to-work state in the country now apparently is Michigan, which has got a Democrat state legislature and a lunatic governor, Gretchen Whitmer.
They’re just repealing right-to-work laws. We love that here in Tennessee because guess what? Anybody who’s sane is continuing to move to Tennessee because of that from Michigan.
Vernuccio: No. That’s right. Unfortunately, Michigan may be going the wrong way. They haven’t gone there yet, but it does not look good. And as Michigan goes in the wrong direction, you guys, I know you had just passed right to work. You made it a constitutional right, so it can’t be repealed like Michigan.
Now you’re going even further, you’re doing right to work 2.0 by making sure employees of companies that get economic incentives, the secret ballot for them in unionization elections is protected. And your governor is also out there, Governor Lee is protecting teachers’ paychecks, not only giving them raises, but also making sure they get their full paycheck. And part of it isn’t siphoned off and given to teachers’ unions.
Leahy: So you’re saying Tennessee is leading the way.
Vernuccio: Tennessee is absolutely leading the way, and I am jealous.
Leahy: In Virginia, you got a good governor there now, but the mix there of the state Senate and the House of Delegates, what they call the Lord Chamber. What’s a mix there in Virginia?
Vernuccio: The Democrats did have a trifecta and they opened up local collective bargaining because Virginia was very similar to Tennessee for decades in saying that government unions could not collectively bargain. Unfortunately, when the Democrats had a trifecta, they opened that up, and local localities are starting to allow it.
In Loudoun County, perhaps you’ve seen it on the news with the teacher education; they may allow collective bargaining just for the process of it. Not raises, nothing like that. They’re estimating over $3 million in cost.
Once again, Tennessee is definitely going in the right direction with the Secret Ballot Protection Act that’s being sent through the legislature right now and the Teacher Paycheck Protection Bill.
Leahy: Now in terms of your work at the Institute for the American Worker, is this kind of legislation your number one priority?
Vernuccio: Actually, this work I do with the Mackinac Center and Workers for Opportunity, we’ve been down there, and I’ve been down there testifying. We are very supportive of the great work of Speaker Sexton and Governor Lee. With I4AW, I mostly focus on federal work in Congress.
Leahy: Ah-ha! Gotcha. Tell us a little bit about the Mackinac Center.
Vernuccio: Mackinac Center is a Michigan think tank, but they do national labor work and advise, both what works well and what doesn’t work well. And their Workers for Opportunity Project has been working in multiple states, and when great think tanks like the Beacon Center down in Tennessee wanted help in making sure that even more workers were protected and teachers’ paychecks are protected, they reached out, and we’ve been helping and advising them on some of these great bills like we’re seeing that the governor and the speaker are pretty colored.
Leahy: Did you come down and testify before the Tennessee General Assembly in this recent session or previously?
Vernuccio: I have. In the previous session.
Leahy: Are you gonna come down again?
Vernuccio: I would absolutely love to. I love Nashville. And once again, I love Nashville and love the bills.
Leahy: You’re based in the D.C. area, the Institute for American Workers, and that’s primarily because that group is focused on federal law, correct?
Vernuccio: That’s correct. The stuff going through Congress, which, unfortunately, by the Biden administration, is not nearly as good as what’s happening down there in Tennessee.
Leahy: Are there any other states out there that are following Tennessee’s lead in this area?
Vernuccio: Florida has a great teacher and public employee protection package that Governor DeSantis is championing. So that kind of goes hand in glove with what Governor Lee is looking to do to protect teachers’ paychecks and make sure that you know that the Tennessee taxpayer is, frankly, not the fundraiser for union politics by taking money out of their paychecks and giving it to unions like the TEA.
But as far as the Secret Ballot Protection Act, that would ensure that Tennessee taxpayers are giving economic incentives to companies and that those companies protect the right of secret ballots for their employees.
That is actually a Tennessee idea, and that is unique right now. I think I’ve already heard from other states that they are very interested in it, but Tennessee is far out the leader in protecting the secret ballot for their private sector workers.
Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Vinnie Vernuccio” by Institute for the American Worker. Background Photo “Tennessee State Capitol” by Reading Tom. CC BY 2.0.