The poor GOP members of the Tennessee General Assembly are hard-pressed to find issues to legislate.
State Sen. Brian Kelsey, who represents the wealthy suburb of Memphis known as Germantown, has decided we need to amend the Tennessee Constitution by referendum next November (2022) when the governorship is up for election.
What Kelsey is proposing is to enshrine right-to-work legislation in the Tennessee Constitution. This so-called “needed amendment” is already a statutory provision in Tennessee law. It was signed into the state statutes in 1947.
Kelsey appears to be one of those looking for a nonexistent problem needing to be corrected.
Due to a provision in the Taft-Hartley Act, the right-to-work issue became a national issue. The right-to-work law was adopted by the Tennessee General Assembly in 1947 and generated significant discussion at the time of its proposal. However, since its adoption it has generated minimal discussion. The discussion now has been promoted by a pro-business lobby group in North Carolina whose only role is to provide an annual income to its lobbyist.
Support for the right-to-work law’s repeal is limited to the trade union movement.
No effort to engage in the act’s repeal has been effective in decades in this state.
Tennessee was one of the 27 states passing similar legislation 60 years ago. The state statute provides that 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.”
Once the battle about this issue begins, employers across Tennessee will be asked to contribute money to fight the trade union movement, which is weak and a minor representation of those who work on the clock here in Tennessee.
Kelsey no doubt is using this issue to generate money and support for the Republican ticket.
The trade union movement in Tennessee has not taken to its bed by Kelsey’s action. Tennessee AFL-CIO State President Billy Dycus indicates he was “disappointed” by the Republican’s action in the state Senate. As a practical matter, the trade union movement has lived with the statute for more than 60 years, and placing the language in our state constitution will have little impact if any on trade unions in Tennessee.
As Dycus has correctly stated, if a union represents workers in a plant, the union has an obligation to represent all workers irrespective of their lack of membership in the union, according to the labor laws of this nation.
Amending the Tennessee Constitution is neither easy nor an inexpensive process.
Time-wise the process can take more than three years. The process requires a two-thirds majority in the both houses of the General Assembly before it can be placed on the next statewide general ballot, which is the next race for governor.
The citizens of Tennessee then have to cast ballots that are greater than half of the last governor’s race for the amendment to be included in the constitution.
As noted previously, Kelsey is seeking to resolve a nonexistent problem that will cost Tennessee businesses an inordinate amount of money with only the lobbyist for the National Right to Work Committee benefitting.