The right not to join a union is high on the list of political targets if Democrats regain their House and Senate majorities. But while progressives in Washington move against this worker right, a state with deep knowledge of so-called right-to-work laws is acting to protect it.
Tennesseans this Election Day will vote on whether to enshrine right to work in the state constitution. Tennessee is already a right-to-work state, meaning workers there aren’t forced to pay dues if they choose not to join a union. Adding that protection to the constitution would make it harder to overturn if Democrats take the statehouse.
“I think that this right is an important enough civil right that it belongs in our state constitution,” said state Sen. Brian Kelsey, who sponsored the amendment in the Legislature last year. The Volunteer State, one of 27 that protect right to work in statute, would become the 10th to make it a constitutional right.
The amendment wouldn’t shield the state from the Pro Act, which is the bill Congressional Democrats are pushing to ban right to work nationwide, among other provisions that would enhance union power. That bill passed the House but stalled in the Senate last year. It boasts 47 sponsors and would be a priority if an enlarged Democratic majority kills the filibuster next year.
Republicans in Nashville want to put right to work on surer ground in their state while their own supermajority lasts. Tennessee was among the first to adopt the provision in 1947, and it exemplifies the benefits that freedom of labor can bestow on an economy.
plant in Smyrna—one of the state’s three auto plants and among the most productive on the Continent—is one part of a long-running industry boom in the state. Auto makers shifted production there in the 1980s to reduce costs and escape union demands that hampered international competition. Today 11% of Tennesseans work in manufacturing, but only 4.3% of the state’s workers are in unions.
Tennessee’s two Democratic Congressmen, Reps.
of Nashville and
of Memphis, voted for the Pro Act. A vote to add right to work to Tennessee’s constitution would show self-proclaimed labor tribunes in Washington that they’re out of sync with workers’ real interests back home.
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