Tennessee voters are now set to vote on a state constitutional amendment next year after the Tennessee House of Representatives passed a measure to enshrine right-to-work laws into the Tennessee constitution.
Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, who represents Williamson County, was among those who helped support the measure through various state Senate and committee hearings.
What are right-to-work laws?
Right-to-work laws refer to laws that limit the extent to which a union can compel employees to participate in the collective bargaining process. These laws are enforced through government intervention between employers and their respective labor unions by prohibiting union security agreements — 27 states have them.
Supporters of right-to-work laws often argue that it protects workers and their decision as to to join or not join a union, and that they create more jobs. Opponents often argue that the laws weaken the strength of collective bargaining process, and decreases wages, conditions and benefits for workers.
Senate Joint Resolution 2
Sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), the measure saw its first major passage in the state Senate back in February of 2020.
While Tennessee has had right-to-work laws since 1947, Senate Joint Resolution 2 — if ultimately adopted by voters — would enshrine those laws into the state constitution.
Kelsey has argued that in doing so, right-to-work laws in Tennessee would be harder to strip away by things such as the PRO Act, a piece of legislation currently making its way through the U.S. Senate that would essentially prohibit right-to-work laws.
Filed as a new joint resolution in November of 2020, the measure more recently passed in February in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee — a committee that Johnson sits on — and in March in a Senate floor vote, a vote where Johnson also voted in the affirmative.
And on Thursday, the Tennessee House overwhelmingly voted to support the measure, cementing the constitutional amendment to be decided by voters in the 2022 gubernatorial election.
“This amendment will guarantee future generations of Tennessee workers their right to work regardless of whether they choose to join a union,” Kelsey said of the bill's passage. “I am pleased this has passed its final hurdle in the General Assembly and I look forwards to its adoption.”
Democratic House Caucus Chair Vincent Dixie, who represents part of Nashville, called the phrase "right-to-work" a misnomer, and argued that were the measure to pass, wages would likely be driven down even further across the state.
"The term 'right-to-work' is a misnomer; it's misleading at best," Dixie said.
"The right-to-work is really a pro-fortune 500 bill, that's what it is, it does nothing to help the average worker. If you look the history of what unions have done for this country — the 40-hour work week, health benefits, child labor laws — it is proven that unions help build the middle class. Now you are taking that away."