The start of the 112th Tennessee General Assembly is quickly approaching, and I am excited to continue working to add Tennessee’s Right to Work law to the state constitution. This month, I filed Senate Joint Resolution 2 for consideration by the 112th General Assembly for its second required passage. If passed by a two-thirds majority, it can be sent to voters on the ballot in November 2022.
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.” An amendment will continue this advantage for future generations of Tennessee workers.
Twenty-seven states are Right to Work, and nine of those have constitutional amendments. Three of those are our neighbors: Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama. But one of our other neighbors, Virginia, also enacted Right to Work when we did back in 1947 and seriously debated repealing it this year until the governor put a stop to efforts.
We can avoid such threats to our law in Tennessee by passing a constitutional amendment. I look forward to working with my fellow legislators and business leaders across our state to do so. Constitutional amendments are hard to repeal, but they are also hard to pass. We will need your support to get this across the finish line.
Words on our efforts from fellow legislators and Tennessee business leaders:
“The hostile legislative environment on the federal level reinforces the need for the Right to Work Amendment to protect workers today and the pro-jobs economy that has made Tennessee’s economy the envy of other states across the nation,” noted House sponsor Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson).
“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. Randy McNally. “I appreciate everything Senator Kelsey has done to support the right to work in Tennessee.”
“Tennessee’s philosophies are just different than many states, and they have allowed small businesses to grow and thrive, creating new opportunities for our citizens,” said House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville). “Adding Right to Work to our constitution strengthens the business-friendly climates we have created across the state and solidifies Tennessee’s current and future economic standing.”
"Right to Work policies have led to Tennessee becoming a national economic leader," said House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland). "I'm proud to stand with my colleagues in support of businesses and Tennessee's workers by adding Right to Work to the state's constitution."
House Majority Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) adds “There is nothing more American than producing income with your own hands to provide for you and your family. Repeating the fruits of your labor fulfills you more than a government program ever will. I am glad Tennessee is renewing our promise to protect the right to work.”
“It is more important than ever that we allow this constitutional amendment to be on the ballot for the citizens of Tennessee,” said House Finance Committee Chairman Susan Lynn (R-Mount Juliet). “Tennessean’s want to protect our right to work status.”
“Tennessee workers want to make their own choices in the workplace and this amendment will forever seal that right,” said Senator Paul Bailey (R-Crossville). “It also sends a strong message that Tennessee will continue to foster a business-friendly climate into the future for locating high quality jobs. There is no better place than our State Constitution to ensure that Tennessee remains a right to work state.”
“Tennessee is a conservative, proud Right-to-Work state with a strong pro-business reputation,” said Employee Affairs Subcommittee Chairman John Holsclaw (R-Elizabethton). “Adding this language to our state constitution sends a message very loud and clear that Tennesseans want to make their own choices in the workplace.”
“Our General Assembly has worked hard to create an environment where businesses can expand and create new jobs for the citizens of our state,” says Chairman of the House Commerce Committee Clark Boyd (R-Lebanon). “This constitutional amendment further strengthens that business-friendly culture, allowing more of our skilled workers to obtain high-quality jobs, and I am honored to support it.”
“Increasing national and state action against state right to work laws has caught the attention of small businesses across Tennessee,” said Jim Brown, Tennessee State Director for NFIB. “In February, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the PRO Act, which would eliminate all state right to work laws and end secret ballot elections, among many harmful provisions. In neighboring Virginia, efforts are ongoing 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 this legislation, 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.”
“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.”