Cookeville – On November 8 Tennesseans across the Upper Cumberland will have a choice. They will decide, not only the governor or who will represent them in the general assembly, but also the future of the “right-to-work” law in TN. Polarized mainly down party lines and argued against by labor unions, the vote on Amendment 1 may also polarize some of the voting public before they cast their ballot.
As Amendment 1 is debated, discussed and deliberated ad nauseam over the next month or so, the question is how the Upper Cumberland will adapt, one way or the other, and what exactly citizens are voting on.
Constitutional Amendment 1 is a proposed amendment in the TN legislature that would add a new section to the Tennessee Constitution to, “make it illegal for any person, corporation, association, or the State of Tennessee or its political subdivisions to deny or attempt to deny employment to any person because of the person’s membership in, affiliation with, resignation from or refusal to join or affiliate with any labor union or employee organization,” according to sos.tn.gov.
This type of policy is known as right-to-work. Tennessee enacted a right-to-work law in 1947.
If the amendment passes, the constitution will be amended to read, according to sos.tn.gov, “It is unlawful for any person, corporation, association, or this state or its political subdivisions to deny or attempt to deny employment to any person by reason of the person’s membership in, affiliation with, resignation from, or refusal to join or affiliate with any labor union or employee organization.”
In short, the amendment will not allow businesses to not hire an employee for refusing to join a labor union or employee organization. State Representative Ryan Williams, who represents the Upper Cumberland in the senate, has said that he is in total support of the new law and that it will solidify Tennessee as a “right-to-work” state.
The amendment was sponsored by Senator Brian Kelsey, representative of the 31st district in Shelby County who said, “The Tennessee right-to-work law states that workers cannot be hired or fired, or in any way discriminated against based on whether or not they are a member of a union. I think that this right is an important enough civil right that it belongs in our state constitution.”
Justin Owen, the president of the Beacon Center of Tennessee agrees.
“Through unions, employees can be forced to join something that they disagree with,” said Owen. “That violates their freedom of association and should ultimately be left up to the individual.”
For Amendment 1 to pass, it must receive more yes votes than no votes. In addition, the number of yes votes must also be greater than 50% of all the votes cast in the governor’s election.
Not everyone supports the amendment of the “right-to-work” law, however.
According to their website, the Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council, an organization that represents 37 international unions and 273 different local unions across TN, says that “right-to-work” laws are designed to take power away from working people.
“Right-to-work laws in any state strip workers from having a voice in negotiating wages, benefits and safe workplaces,” said the AFL-CIO website .
Those opposed to Amendment 1 argue that if a union represents a particular workplace, it is still legally required to provide the representation to everyone whether they are a paying dues to the union or not. They say that is not fair to the unions.
“Even though a lot of money is spent to defend non-members whose rights are violated under a collective bargaining agreement,” said the AFL-CIO website, “right to Work laws prevent the union from collecting any sort of fee for services from non-members. This is freeloading.”
“As a worker and a Tennessean, voting against Amendment 1 allows you to continue to use your voice to counter the corporate giants who are constantly trying to take that voice away,” said AFL-CIO President Billy Dycus in a statement. “This November, it’s up to all of us to send a message and stand together in solidarity at the ballot box.”
The The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), an advocate for small businesses throughout the state and the Upper Cumberland, says “right-to-work” gives people a choice.
“Right-to-work simply states that workers have a choice if they want to join a union or not,” NFIB State Director Jim Brown said. “NFIB members across Tennessee believe workers should have that choice, and Tennessee voters will be able to vote on adding this important constitutional protection on Nov. 8.”
Oct. 11 is the deadline to register to vote. Early voting for the Nov. 8 State and Federal General Election starts Wednesday, Oct. 19, and runs Monday to Saturday until Thursday, Nov. 3. The deadline to request an absentee by-mail ballot is Tuesday, Nov. 1.