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Opinion: Vote no on ‘needless and harmful’ Amendment 1

By , Guest Columnist Published: October 28, 2022 4:00 AM CT
Bryce W. Ashby
Guest Columnist

Bryce W. Ashby

Bryce Ashby is an attorney for Donati Law, PLLC who primarily represents workers in employment disputes.

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Amendment 1 seeks to enshrine in the Tennessee Constitution a policy that undermines workers’ rights. If passed, it will give employers increased leverage over their employees in a relationship that is already unfairly tilted toward employers.

In their recent op-ed in support of Amendment 1, spokesmen for the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry, the National Federal of Independent Business and the Beacon Center came together and offered misdirection and unsupportable political talking points in an effort to advocate for this needless and harmful amendment.

Understanding Tennessee’s proposed ‘right to work’ constitutional amendment

Let’s look at a few examples.

First, they claim that “right to work” laws are neutral on unionization. This is nonsense.

In a typical union election, after more than 30% of workers have indicated an interest in having union representation, an election is held and administered by the National Labor Relations Board. If more than 50% of the workers vote in favor of collective representation, then a union is formed and becomes the singular/collective voice of the workers.

As a term of a collective bargaining agreement with the employer, the union can seek to require that all workers pay dues or be terminated from their employment. This is called a union security agreement.

This provision is critical to the effectiveness and life of a union because it ensures that each worker who benefits from the higher wages, safer work environments, better benefits and employment security that arise out of union representation contributes to the union financially.

Opinion: Vote yes on Amendment 1 to protect the rights of workers

 A simpler way of putting it is this: It prevents free-loaders.

“Right to work” laws, like the one advocated by these three business interest groups, prohibit such agreements.

In the name of individual freedom, these business interest groups wish to create different classes of workers to keep them pitted against each other instead of working in harmony for improved conditions in the workplace. The outcome of “right to work” laws is that even when a union manages to gain a foothold, it is not fully united because some workers contribute financially for the benefit of those who refuse to pay their fair share. Meanwhile, those workers who refuse to pay and cannot be compelled to do so readily accept the benefits that the union obtains for them.

Next, these business interest groups claim that it is a myth that “right to work” states don’t pay workers as much as more pro-union states; but the statistics they offer in support of their position show higher wage increases for non-union workers over the past year, but the statistics do not show actual pay rates. Non-union workers saw higher increases during the past year as inflation grew because their wages were so low they had nowhere to go but up. This is hardly a compelling argument for Amendment 1.

The truth is that workers represented by unions earned 10.2% higher wages than non-union workers, they are 10% more likely to have health insurance and have out-of-pocket health expenditures that are 11% less than non-represented workers.

Opinion: Tennesseans should reject government overreach, vote against Amendment 1

The benefits don’t end in compensation, as union representation at the job site results in markedly safer work environments. In the construction industry, for example, one recent study showed union worksites had 34% fewer violations per OSHA inspection than non-union sites.

Finally, these business interest groups claim a pressing need to amend our Constitution. They want to preserve a “tradition” they claim started 75 years ago, but it appears more likely that they wish to preserve a mentality that took a civil war to upend.

In recent months, we’ve seen headlines of union efforts in the South at Starbucks (in our own city!), Amazon plants and in Alabama’s coal mines. These business interest groups want to preserve a plantation mentality in the state Constitution because they fear that change is coming and that workers will no longer tolerate the vast inequalities of the workplace.

It’s time to vote “no” on Amendment 1. In Amendment 3, Tennesseans are considering removing the language of slavery from the state constitution. We shouldn’t be amending the Tennessee Constitution to implicitly add a mentality with Amendment 1 that we are voting to explicitly remove with Amendment 3.


Guest Columns Amendment 1 Tennessee Right to Work


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