Howard Office Building

Tennesseans on Tuesday voted on four proposed constitutional amendments. All four amendments passed by comfortable margins, and while they largely pertain to language updates and clarifications, Amendment 1’s passage could have significant implications for the future of labor in Tennessee.

Constitutional Amendment 1

Tennessee has been a right-to-work state for about as long as right-to-work has existed. And now, following a big push from Gov. Bill Lee including a misleading and inaccurate open letter in support of the amendment, right-to-work language will be codified in the state constitution. 

Tennessee was already one of 27 right-to-work states, but Amendment 1’s passage will make it far more difficult for future state legislators to reverse the right-to-work laws. In states with right-to-work laws, wages are lower and unions have far less bargaining and advocacy power, leaving employers with more control over the workforce. This is because it allows workers to opt out of unions and their dues, even if they benefit from union-negotiated contracts. Advocates for the amendment say right-to-work makes Tennessee more attractive to employers, which is likely true: Evidence is mounting that right-to-work laws are more beneficial to business owners than to workers themselves.

Constitutional Amendment 2

Article 3, Section 12 of the state constitution previously stated that in the case of the governor’s death, resignation or removal from office, the powers of the governor’s office are delegated to the speaker of the state Senate, followed by the speaker of the House. This amendment essentially adds clarifications on what exactly this process should look like. It also makes it clear that while fulfilling the governor’s duties, the speaker can retain their seat in the legislature but cannot vote as a member of the legislature.

Additionally, the amendment confirms that should the speaker take the governor’s seat, they will still receive a speaker’s salary. The amendment also temporarily exempts the speaker from a law that prohibits representatives from holding more than one state office while they are performing the duties of governor. 

Constitutional Amendment 3

Article 1, Section 33 of the state constitution previously allowed slavery as punishment for a crime. Amendment 3 removed the so-called “punishment clause” from the constitution, prohibiting slavery outright. A stipulation also added that “nothing in this section shall prohibit an inmate from working when the inmate has been duly convicted of a crime,” a change that prisoner advocates and activist groups have shown support for.

Constitutional Amendment 4

Article 9, Section 1 of the state constitution previously prohibited ministers and priests of any denomination from holding a seat in the state legislature. The U.S. Supreme Court declared the provision unconstitutional in 1978, and the rule has not been enforced since then. Amendment 4 officially removed this prohibition from the state constitution.