COMMENTARY: "Right to Work" Amendment 1 is unnecessary, anti-labor and anti-union

Sep 24, 2022 at 01:23 pm by Chloe Cerutti


“Right to Work” Amendment 1 is unnecessary, anti-labor and anti-union
 
Make no mistake about it, the term “Right to Work” is intentionally misleading. It has nothing to do
with your actual right to work which has been in effect in Tennessee for the past 75 years. The right
NOT to join a union is protected by federal law. Essentially “Right to Work” means “Right to Work for
Less.” Nowhere is that more apparent than in Tennessee which leads the nation in minimum wage
workers earning $7.25 per hour, a figure which hasn’t changed since 2009. That’s about $15,000 per
year. According to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, the living hourly wage needed for an adult with one
child in Davidson County is $28.21 and $14.84 for a single person without children.
 
The result is that 1 in 5 Tennesseans live in poverty making this the 11th poorest state in the nation. For
those service workers reliant on tips, the situation is far worse since they can be paid as little as $2.13 an
hour so long as the they earn enough in tips to add up to the $7.25. Because Tennessee is one of 5
states which has no state specific labor laws, its minimum wage and overtime laws are regulated by
those set by the federal government. Hence, it’s small wonder that unions are unwelcome in a state
where cheap labor is promoted as a major enticement for big business and corporate interests.
Amendment 1 is yet another way to discourage unions and assure the continuation of low wages and
obedient workers.
 
COVID-19 has resulted in dramatic changes to this country’s work place with 1 million deaths
nationwide, 27,553 being in Tennessee. With the loss of large numbers of older employees, many to an
early retirement, today’s workforce is growing younger, less compliant and increasingly demanding of
better pay and improved working conditions. That can be seen in Tennessee where unionizing
businesses such as Amazon, Starbucks and REI has jumped more than 24% in 2022. There are now 421
labor unions in this state, and Tennessee’s union membership growth has become the highest in the
nation.
 
Unions have long sustained and fed the middle class and were largely responsible for the fact that 60
years ago in America a single person working 40 hours per week could support the entire family with a
house, new car, vacations, and time to enjoy life. “It’s no coincidence that as union membership has
continued to dwindle, so have the fortunes of the middle class.” - John Fetterman. “Unions are what
made America a middle class country. And it was the loss of unions that turned us into the extremely
unequal nation we are now.” - Paul Krugman, Nobel-winning economist. Despite declining numbers,
unions continue to play an important role in addressing income inequality creating a more equitable and
democratic economy by reducing gender pay gaps for women, Blacks, Hispanics, and those without a
college degree, many of whom also benefit from free apprenticeship training programs provided by the
trade unions. Historically, unions increase average wages for all workers about 11% more than their
non-union counterparts.
 
In recent decades, Republican politicians, employers, and their lobbyists have orchestrated concerted
attacks on unions, viewing worker empowerment and representation as a threat to corporate greed
better known as “profitability.” Nevertheless, we remain indebted to those many union workers who
fought and died to provide the astounding number of workplace benefits we now take for granted. 
Those include: weekends off, lunch breaks, paid vacations, sick leave, an 8-hour work day, social
security, minimum wage, overtime pay, laws ending child labor, 40-hour work week, unemployment
insurance, pensions, workplace safety standards, employer-provided health care insurance, wrongful
termination laws, whistleblower protection laws, laws ending discrimination based on age or disability,
sexual harassment laws, Holiday pay, workers compensation, right to strike and collective bargaining.
 
On November 8th, we must protect those hard-won benefits by showing our support for Tennessee’s
union members who include teachers, police, firefighters, musicians, carpenters, maintenance workers,
actors, letter carriers, machinists, and air traffic controllers.  VOTE NO on Amendment 1.
 
by Chloe Cerutti
Murfreeboro, TN
Sections: Politics


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