“The only effective answer to organized greed is organized labor.”
In the weeks leading up to Labor Day, I’ve found myself reflecting on this quote by Thomas Donahue, former secretary-treasurer and president of the AFL-CIO.
Working people across the country, including right here in the South, have been taking this sentence and transforming it into action throughout the past year.
From the brave employees at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse who sought to organize their workplace, to their nearby neighbors in Brookwood who have been on strike against Warrior Met Coal since April, workers are standing up to corporate special interests and demanding that they be treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve.
In Tennessee, members of the Air Engineering Metal Trades Council who work at Arnold Air Force Base in Tullahoma went on strike just two months ago before securing a new contract that contained fair wages and protected their critically-important health care and disability benefits.
These three examples send a clear message to workers everywhere: this is what solidarity looks like.
Labor Day is a time to celebrate what working people have accomplished while recommitting ourselves to the important work that still needs to be done.
Here in Tennessee, that “to-do” list is quite extensive as working families continue to be tested like never before. In just 14 months, voters across the state will be tasked with deciding whether or not to enshrine Tennessee’s so-called “Right to Work” law in the state constitution.
The concept of “Right to Work” may sound like a good idea, but in reality, it’s the complete opposite. These laws originated during the Jim Crow era and are intended to strip workers from having a voice in negotiating things like fair wages, good benefits and safe workplaces.
Backers of these “Right to Work” laws love to claim that the goal is to protect workers’ freedom from being forced to join a union. Their argument, however, is invalid: federal law already makes it illegal to force someone to belong to a labor union.
“Right to Work” actually means less freedom for workers, not more.
So the question remains: why are we even considering amending the state constitution to include a harmful law that has already been on the books for over 70 years and affects less than 10% of working Tennesseans?
The answer is simple: corporate special interest groups and big business run the state of Tennessee, using their political allies to push their self-serving agenda at a time when their constituents are facing very real and serious issues.
Enough is enough.
While the election is still over a year away, I call on Tennesseans of all political stripes this Labor Day to think very carefully about how important this decision will be to the future of our state.
Do we want Tennessee to be known as a place that easily sells out to those with deep pockets at the expense of the workers?
Do we want to be known as the state that amends its sacred constitution at the drop of a hat?
Do we want to continue to make headlines as the state with the highest number of minimum wage jobs and an economy that does not work for everyone?
Ultimately, the choice is yours.
We hope that you decide to join us over this next year as we show Tennessee’s leadership that we are ready to answer their organized greed with the power, strength, and solidarity of working people.
Billy Dycus is the president of the Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council, which is the leading voice for over 60,000 working people statewide.