Gov. Lee announces campaign to amend state constitution with right-to-work

Bill Lee
Posted at 10:53 AM, Nov 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-22 19:38:21-05

MADISON, Tenn. (WTVF) — Standing at a Madison business, Gov. Bill Lee announced Monday he would like to change the state constitution with a right-to-work provision detailed in the document.

The Yes on 1 Committee — which he will serve as honorary chairman — will work to convince Tennesseans to vote for an amendment change on the ballot in November 2022. Right-to-work means employees have the freedom to join a union, and for business leaders to fire employees at will. As of now, a federal law from 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act, already provides workers the freedom to join unions or not. Tennessee has had a right-to-work law for 75 years. Republican leaders said right-to-work has been a driver for "economic success."

“Tennessee is leading the nation with a strong workforce thanks to a long-held commitment to right-to-work," Lee said. “A yes on right-to-work means saying yes to a strong economy, good jobs and merit-based opportunity. More than half the states in the country have right-to-work laws. We believe it must be enshrined for freedoms for all workers. That's what this is. My background is with workers, and the work I did prior to this job included skilled workers. When people see Tennessee, they see opportunity and freedom for workers "

The Yes On 1 committee is treasured by former Gov. Bill Haslam. Mark Faulkner — owner of the Madison business Vireo Systems — said his products and business were growing. He said that meant his team was also expanding.

"We recognize the importance that workers here in Tennessee have the right to choose whether or not they have 5% of their payroll taken for union dues. It's important whether they work here in Madison or Memphis or Mountain City that we preserve that right for work for generations to come. Right-to-work and no state income tax have been the hallmark for why people have been attracted to Tennessee."

But not everyone is on board with the initiative, with AFL-CIO Labor Council working on a campaign against the amendment. They said the desire for the new amendment in the state constitution could trail back to the days Volkswagen debated on becoming a unionized automaker.

"Look — it’s no doubt that the business community wants to enshrine it in the state constitution," AFL-CIO Labor Council president Billy Dycus said. "For the governor and Gov. Haslam, it’s in their best interests to see it happen. What’s surprising is what are they really afraid of? That’s what ironic about all this when less than 10 percent is unionized and this has been a law since 1947. That’s the part that is surprising and they are so consumed with right to work."

Ford Motor Company — which Lee worked with to put their new plant in West Tennessee and touted during his press conference — will become a union shop, as first reported by the Tennessee Lookout. But Dycus said he didn't think that was a driving force behind the Yes on 1 campaign.

"It hasn’t got anything to do with Ford, but this does have to do with the automotive industry," Dycus said. "There’s a lot of things, multiple things in fact. I think the governor walks lightly around Ford because that’s a feather in his hat. But the problem is most people don’t realize right to work doesn’t give you any privileges unless you’re in a union. So we will be campaigning against Yes On 1."