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AP File Photo/Mark Humprhey / Gov. Bill Lee has agreed to be honorary chairman of the state effort — culminating in a vote in November 2022 — to enshrine the right-to-work law in Tennessee's constitution.

On the same day next November when Tennesseans decide whether to re-elect Gov. Bill Lee, they'll also decide whether the constitutional amendment effort he agreed to lead last week will pass.

Last Monday, the "Yes on 1" Committee announced the governor will be the honorary state chairman for the push to enshrine the right-to-work law in the state constitution. Right-to-work means that employees cannot be forced to join a labor union and pay dues to get or keep their job.

Legislators voted in April to place the issue on the ballot in November 2022. Lee joined Republican leaders and business groups at Vireo Systems in Madison to make the announcement.

"Tennessee is leading the nation with a strong workforce, thanks to a long-held commitment to right-to-work," Lee said. "A yes on right-to-work means saying yes to a strong economy, good jobs, and merit-based opportunity."

Since right-to-work is already a state law, and has been since 1947, the amendment will do little to change things except make the process more difficult to undo.

Nevertheless, Jim Brown with the National Federation of Independent Business told Nashville's WPLN it's an important action to take.

"It deserves the extra protection because it's under attack from the federal level with the PRO [Protecting the Right to Organize] Act that was passed twice in the House of Representatives," he said.

The PRO Act, which passed the Democratic U.S. House in 2020 and 2021, gives more protections to workers who want to unionize. It has not had a vote in the Senate.

Brown noted that outgoing Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam spoke vaguely early in his term about getting rid of that state's 1947 right to work law, and self-proclaimed socialist Delegate Lee Carter, D-Manassas, sponsored a bill to do so earlier this year. But it did not gain traction.

Tennessee would become the ninth state in the country to enshrine the law in its constitution. Twenty-seven states either have right-to-work in their constitution or have made it a law.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton, East Tennessee co-chairmen for the campaign, said the governor's business background makes him the perfect person to lead the "Yes on 1" effort.

"Between running his own Tennessee business and then recruiting businesses to our state," McNally said, "Gov. Lee has the perfect background to help us make the case for placing right-to-work in our state constitution."

"We appreciate Gov. Lee's leadership as the newest member of the 'Yes on 1' team," Sexton said. "Together, we can ensure that Amendment 1 obtains the same widespread support that our right-to-work policy has long received."

County co-chairs for the campaign announced in late September include state Reps. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, and Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, for Hamilton County; state Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, for Bradley, McMinn, Meigs and Polk counties; state Rep. Dan Howell, R-Cleveland, for Bradley, Meigs and Polk counties; Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, for Grundy, Marion and Sequatchie counties; state Rep. Iris Rudder, R-Winchester, for Marion County; state Rep. Mark Cochran, R-Englewood, for McMinn County; and state Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, for Rhea County.

The governor is putting his name on the issue only two months after welcoming Ford Motor Co., which has a long history with the United Auto Workers, to West Tennessee. Despite Lee's recent statements, both he and Ford officials had said workers at the future manufacturing plant will be able to make their own choices about representation.

(READ MORE: Tennessee Gov. Lee chairs right-to-work campaign while Ford plant question remains unanswered)

Lee reiterated that stance Monday.

"My active role is going to be to ensure that in Tennessee the workers have the choice as to the environment that they work," he said, "so that's what this is about, and that's what should happen and will happen on that site — the workers will decide."

Lee said the reasons Ford was attracted to the state are the same ones with which other companies have been recruited here: low taxes, few business regulations and smart workforce strategies such as increased vocational and technical training.

He might have said, but didn't, that those reasons, and not union representation, are why the state has been one of the country's most attractive sites for businesses over the last decade

When it comes to next November, though, Lee's fate is linked — beyond just support — to the constitutional amendment. The amendment must receive a majority vote of those who cast a ballot in the gubernatorial election to become a part of the constitution.

At this point, we can't imagine Volunteer State voters will turn it down.

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