The start of the 112th Tennessee General Assembly is quickly approaching, and State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) is getting a head start on following through with his work in the 111th General Assembly to add Tennessee’s Right to Work law to the state constitution. Today, Kelsey will file a Senate Joint Resolution for consideration by the 112th General Assembly to add the Right to Work law to the constitution for its second required passage by the legislature before it can be sent to voters on the ballot.
“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.
In June 2020, Senate Joint Resolution 648, sponsored by Kelsey, overwhelmingly passed the state legislature, which was the first step in enshrining the law to the Tennessee Constitution.
Now, the resolution will be required to pass by a two-thirds majority in the 2021 or 2022 legislation 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 2022 governor’s election.
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 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.”
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, has considered 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. 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.”
The resolution has also gained support from prominent Tennessee business leaders.
“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.”
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.”
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.