Today, a resolution to add Tennessee’s Right to Work law to the state constitution passed the Tennessee Senate with over a two thirds supermajority vote.
Senate Joint Resolution 648 is sponsored by Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge); Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston), Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville), Speaker Pro Tem. Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), Deputy Speaker Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma), Finance, Ways, and Means Committee Chairman Bo Watson (R-Hixson), Commerce and Labor Committee Chairman Paul Bailey (R-Sparta), Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), Government Operations Committee Chairman Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield), Senator Dawn White (R-Murfreesboro), Senator Bill Powers (R-Clarksville), Senator Paul Rose (R-Cordova), Senator Ed Jackson (R-Jackson), Senator John Stevens (R-Huntingdon), and Senator Art Swann (R-Maryville), Senator Shane Reeves (R-Murfreesboro), Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville) and Senator Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol).
Its companion House Resolution is sponsored by Insurance Committee Chairman Robin Smith (R-Hixson), Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland), Finance, Ways, and Means Committee Chairman Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet), Government Operations Committee Chairman Martin Daniel (R-Knoxville); Health Committee Chairman Bryan Terry (R-Murfreesboro), Judiciary Committee Chairman Michael Curcio (R-Dickson), and Commerce Committee Chairman Timothy Hill (R-Blountville).
“This amendment will guarantee future generations of Tennessee workers their right to work regardless of whether they choose to join a union,” said Senator Kelsey.
Tennessee’s Right to Work statute has been state law since 1947. It provides workers cannot be hired or fired based on their membership in, affiliation with, resignation from, or refusal to join or affiliate with any labor union or employee organization. When introduced in 1947, supporters of the bill argued that it would “be of great advantage to the average member of organized labor.” It also protects the rights of those who choose not to join a union.
“Tennessee is a highly sought location for companies seeking hard workers and a friendly business environment,” Chairman Smith said. “Having a constitutional amendment that forever protects Tennessee workers and the growth for jobs in our state is the right thing.”
Twenty-seven other states have Right to Work laws, and nine of those have passed constitutional amendments, including neighboring states Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama. The Alabama amendment passed most recently in 2016. Another neighbor, Virginia, is presently considering repealing its Right to Work statute. A constitutional amendment would offer greater protection for workers against such repeal efforts.
“Tennessee’s Right to Work laws have been critical to producing the economic growth our state has experienced over the last decade,” said Lt. Gov. McNally. “I appreciate everything Senator Kelsey has done to support the right to work in Tennessee.”
“Tennessee has been and will remain a Right to Work state,” said Speaker Cameron Sexton. “Solidifying this essential concept through this amendment will engrain this key principle of Tennessee business into our constitution. This will strengthen our economic standing, support our current and future workforces, and also ensure this state remains open for business.”
“Our right to work law has helped make Tennessee a great place to work for decades,” said Senator Johnson. “By codifying this law into the state constitution, we will ensure this freedom stays in place and helps Tennessee’s strong job market continue.”
“Our General Assembly has focused on creating an environment where businesses can expand and create new jobs,” said Representative Lamberth. “This constitutional amendment supports our current and future workforces, and I am honored to support it.”
“There is no better place than our State Constitution to ensure that Tennessee remains a right to work state,” said Senator Bell. “Tennessee workers should always have the freedom to make their own choices.”
“Tennessee workers want to make their own choices in the workplace and this amendment will forever seal that right,” said Senator Bailey. “It also sends a strong message that Tennessee will continue to foster a business-friendly climate into the future for locating high quality jobs.”
“Tennessee is a strong business leader because of its framework that allows business owners to take risks, reap the reward for their efforts, and maintain their workforce in a manner that best fits their business climate,” said Representative Hill. “This legislation further cements the legislature’s commitment to fostering an environment of certainty and growth for business in Tennessee.”
“In this day and age, I think it’s extremely important to reinforce that Tennessee is a Right to Work state,” said Representative Lynn. “By adding this amendment to our constitution, we’re protecting our workers but also reinforcing that Tennessee is open for business.”
“Our state is experiencing near historic low unemployment, and new businesses continue to come to our region and to Tennessee daily,” said Chairman Terry. “This constitutional amendment strengthens our commitment to our workers, enhances our local and statewide economies, and solidifies our status as a national leader.”
“Tennessee’s workforce is one of the strongest in the entire nation, and my colleagues and I must continue to provide resources and support initiatives that sustain our economic growth and prosperity,” said Chairman Curcio. “I am proud to support this constitutional amendment that reaffirms our commitment to economic and workforce freedom.”
The resolution has also gained support from prominent Tennessee business leaders.
“Rhetoric from national candidates against state right to work laws has caught the attention of small businesses across Tennessee,” said Jim Brown, Tennessee State Director for NFIB. “In neighboring Virginia there is currently an effort to repeal its right to work law adopted in 1947, and in Indiana a judge ruled in 2013 that its right to work law was unconstitutional. Tennesseans simply prefer choices over mandates. For these reasons, NFIB strongly supports SJR 648, which will strengthen a key element that has made Tennessee an attractive state for businesses and workers.”
“The Tennessee Chamber and our business community has remained strongly supportive of our status as a Right to Work state which is a key component establishing the Volunteer state as friendly to business,” said Bradley Jackson, President and CEO of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Embedding Right to Work permanently in our constitution sends a strong message moving forward that Tennessee is and always will be ready for business.”
Beacon Impact, the advocacy partner of the Beacon Center of Tennessee also supports the resolution.
“While Right to Work has been the long-standing public policy of Tennessee, it is increasingly under attack,” said Justin Owen, CEO of Beacon Impact. “It is imperative that we protect the fundamental right of Tennessee workers to decide whether or not to pay union dues for generations to come, and the best way to do that is to recognize this right in our state constitution.”
If passed by the Tennessee House of Representatives in 2020, SJR 648 would need to pass by a two-thirds majority during the 2021 or 2022 legislative session in order to appear on the ballot for a statewide referendum in November 2022. The amendment would become part of the state constitution if adopted by a majority vote in the governor’s election.
There is also strong public support for the resolution. An October 2019 Beacon Center survey reported that 68 percent of Tennesseans favor the Right to Work policy, while 13 percent are opposed, and 19 percent remain undecided.