Tennessee voters will have to decide in November whether to write the state’s right-to-work law into the state’s constitution.
The law, which may be a bit confusing on the surface, boils down to the fact that workers cannot be forced to join a union as a condition of employment. It’s been on the books in Tennessee since 1947.
Ballot measure Amendment 1 will make it harder to change that law in the future.
“Big business wants it codified into the constitution for no purpose other than to keep our wages down — and our conditions down,” says Eric Coons, a union leader with Local 572.
Coons, who represents Nashville area plumbers, pipefitters and HVAC technicians, says the proposal could also keep benefits to a minimum — if not wiping them out.
Supporters of the right-to-work amendment describe it as a “bedrock of Tennessee’s workplace freedoms.” They say the state’s labor laws have contributed to employment growth in Tennessee, which has resulted in better pay.
“By enshrining the right to work in the Tennessee Constitution, voters will simply be taking our existing right-to-work protections — for union and non-union members alike — and elevating them to a constitutional right,” the campaign’s executive committee said in a recent editorial published by The Tennessean.
But some workers rights advocates say the amendment will make things even worse for workers because they’ll have less of a safety net. Union membership is already low in Tennessee, and state laws tend to favor employers over workers.
The unequal distribution of power has led to statewide worker shortages in critical industries, including education and healthcare. Many people are turning to gig-work, side-hustles and remote opportunities for better pay and benefits.