Gov. Bill Lee will serve as statewide chairman of a committee working to add Tennessee’s “right-to-work” law to the state constitution, the governor announced Monday.
Passed originally in 1947, Tennessee’s “right-to-work” law prohibits companies and unions from requiring workers to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment.
After a yearslong effort to get the issue on the ballot, Tennessee voters will decide whether to add the provision to the state Constitution during the November 2022 election.
Lee, up for reelection in 2022, joins former Gov. Bill Haslam and leaders from Tennessee’s legislature and business community on a “Yes On 1” committee to advocate its passage.
“We have one of the most robust economies in this state. We have companies moving in record numbers. Part of that is because we have an environment that is business friendly and that is friendly to workers as well,” Lee said.
During an announcement event in Nashville on Monday, Lee credited the Ford Motor Co.’s choice to open a plant in West Tennessee to Tennessee’s business- and worker-friendly regulatory environment.
“It’s a reminder to us that we should create an environment that is attractive to both companies and workers, and that’s what this Yes On 1 initiative is,” Lee said.
So far, 27 other states have “right-to-work” laws, and nine have adopted constitutional amendments.
According to a poll by the Beacon Center of Tennessee, 68% of Tennesseans say they would vote to place the “right-to-work” provision in Tennessee’s constitution.
“This has been a central driver in our economic success story as a state,” said Justin Owen, a member of the Yes On 1 executive committee and president of the Beacon Center.
“We believe strongly that workers should have the right to choose whether or not to join a union, and ‘right to work’ gives them that choice — it has now for nearly 75 years,” he added. “We hope that they will vote to enshrine it in our constitution to continue that tradition for generations to come.”
In 2019 Virginia legislators considered repealing that state’s “right-to-work” statute, also passed in 1947. The effort was stifled by Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat.
State “right-to-work” laws may see some pushback on the federal level. Members of the U.S. House have twice passed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act — once in 2019 and again earlier this year. The legislation seeks to override state “right-to-work” laws.
“This deserves extra protection because it’s under attack at the federal level,” said Jim Brown, executive committee member and president of the Tennessee National Federation for Independent Business.
In Tennessee, the proposed “right-to-work” amendment is generally supported by the business community, while unions oppose it.
The Senate Democratic Caucus criticized Lee’s move in a tweet on Monday.
“Gov. Bill Lee is campaigning with corporate special interests today for a GOP ballot initiative to put failed trickle-down economics in our state constitution,” the caucus wrote. “In 2022, vote NO on AMD 1.”
In addition to Lee, who will serves as state chairman, the Yes On 1 executive committee also includes:
Former Gov. Bill Haslam, treasurer
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally
House Speaker Cameron Sexton
Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson
House Majority Leader William Lamberth
State Rep. Chris Todd
Josh Thomas, director of operations
Jim Brown, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business
Bradley Jackson, CEO of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry
Justin Owen, president of the Beacon Center of Tennessee