by Rick Halford, SSMRC political director
In November of this year, members who live in Tennessee will have the opportunity to vote on a proposed amendment – Amendment No. 1 – that would add a falsely named “right-to-work” clause to the state constitution.
Why is this necessary when there has been a “right-to-work” law in Tennessee since 1947? Enshrining “right to work” in the state constitution will make it difficult to ever repeal this law.
Politicians and corporate interests will have you believe this amendment is excellent for Tennessean working families, that it will protect people who do not want to join a union.
Let’s back up and take a look at what right-to-work laws are and the effects they have had on workers, unions, and communities in the 27 states where they are in place.
Right-to-work laws allow workers to opt out of supporting unions while unions remain legally bound to represent them. Essentially, unions must provide their services for free in unionized workplaces in states covered by right-to-work laws. Paying dues is optional. What happens when paying for a service you will receive whether you pay or not is optional? Many people don’t pay.
This robs locals of the resources they need to bargain well, enforce contracts, build solidarity, and survive labor disputes. In many cases, unions cannot effectively operate under these conditions, and workers are left without a collective voice.
In states with right-to-work legislation, workers earn lower wages than their peers in other states, are more likely to be injured in workplace accidents, and are less likely to have health insurance and retirement plans. These states also have higher poverty rates than states without right-to-work legislation.
Given this backgound information, ask yourself who has what to gain by adding this amendment. Just follow the money. It sure does not help the working families of Tennessee, but it does help politicians who are backed by corporate interests.
Don’t get me wrong. We want industries and businesses to come to Tennessee and call it home. We will always advocate for new industries and growth. But strategies for corporate growth should never come at the expense of the employees who make those companies successful.
I am also okay with someone not wanting to join a union; this is still America, after all. I am not okay with someone being a free rider, collecting the benefits dues-paying members receive and not having any skin in the game. Politicians will have you believe this does not happen, but it very frequently does.
You will be receiving future correspondence regarding this amendment as we get closer to voting day in November. Please feel free to share these communications with your friends and family. And please make plans to Vote “No” on this amendment and to encourage others to do the same.