Right to work and increasing the minimum wage up for possible changes in the TN Legislature

Posted By | February 3, 2020 2:04 pm

Democratic Dialog – By Debra Wines

In 1947, Tennessee became the first and only state to adopt a right-to-work statute.  Tennessee is also known as an “employment-at-will” state; this law can be found in the Tennessee Revised Statutes Title 50-1-304.  Basically, it means an employee may be legally hired, fired, suspended, or disciplined at any time for any reason or no reason at all.  The Tennessee Right To Work Law can be found in Tennessee Code Annotated 50-1-201.  That law has several provisions in it, but the main one is an employer is not allowed to deny employment to any person “by reason of the person’s membership in, affiliation with, resignation from, or refusal to join or affiliate with any labor union or employee organization of any kind.”

On Jan. 8, 2020, a bill was filed that would make Tennessee’s right to work law part of our state’s constitution. By Jan. 28, 2020, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee adopted the bill and referred it to the Senate Calendar Committee for a vote later this year.  The difficult thing to understand is, since 1947, it has been Tennessee law, so why is there a big push to make it an amendment to our state Constitution?  I understand being a right to work state is a great incentive to attract new business to Tennessee and help retain businesses here.  I am not sure there really is a logical explanation to include this as part of the Tennessee Constitution.

Another issue that is getting a great deal of attention is SB 1788.  This bill was filed by Senator Sara Kyle (D-Memphis).  It is called the “Tennessee Minimum Wage Act.”  This bill proposes a state minimum wage of $15 an hour.  Currently, Tennessee does not have its own minimum wage, they follow the federal government’s standard.  At this time, there is little “hard” information regarding the details of implementation of such a change.

Naturally, the minute someone hears any talk about raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour, the discussion immediately focuses on people who work in fast food restaurants or in retail, the jobs that some people think only high school kids or unskilled people should do.  That hasn’t been the case for a good many years.  Sadly, too many people seem to forget the number of people who have lost good-paying jobs since the 1980s.

Our economy has been battered with jobs moving out of the country, minor recessions and major recessions, too.  There are many people who had good paying factory jobs with great health benefits and what they thought was going to be a secure retirement, only to find out when their companies were sold or closed down, all their benefits, including the majority of their retirement funds, were lost.  Many of those people now try to live on Social Security, but find their standard of living is far from ideal.  They started taking whatever jobs they could find to help themselves make ends meet.

Some of those jobs were jobs teenagers worked at to make extra spending money or help save for college.  When older workers starting getting those jobs, that put a limit on what jobs were available for teenagers and young adults.  Employers were happy, because older applicants normally had a good work history, they were reliable, and they were willing to work cheap.

Many people don’t take into consideration there are various employment sectors that are more than just entry-level positions, but the workers are still being paid either minimum wage or slightly above. Those jobs require certification and specialized skills.  Many of those jobs are in the healthcare industry.   You may not see the kind of work they do, the life and death situations they may face daily in our hospitals, nursing homes, clinics or in our homes when they come to take care of a seriously ill or dying relative.  Perhaps, if these workers earned a decent livable wage, there would be less turnover and less outside stress impacting the quality of care given to their patients.

According to some of the research I’ve been doing about the cost of living in Tennessee, if a person is paid $10.75 an hour, for a 40-hour work week, their yearly, pre-taxed income would be $22,360. Their monthly, pre-taxed income would be $1863.33.  The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is around $550 a month.  This particular chart suggested 13.4 percent of that income goes to food, which boils down to almost $250 a month for one person. Then you have to consider, utilities, probably a cell phone and some kind of wi-fi service.  Transportation and health insurance were not included in this “average cost of living.”  If those were included, this really isn’t much of a “living wage.”

I did some research on Indeed.com and looked for jobs within 10 miles of Sparta. Two-hundred-eleven of those jobs paid under $25,000 a year.  If you expand the search to a 25-mile radius of Sparta, the number of jobs increased dramatically, but still the majority of jobs paid under $25,000 a year and were considered entry level positions.  The question is, would there be that many jobs open if the yearly income was $31,200, which would equal $15 per hour for 40 hours a week?  There is obviously a problem here, but I’m not exactly sure what it is.

I understand raising the minimum wage could be a hardship on some small businesses, but many economists have said if people make more money they spend more money. The economy may be great for anyone who is highly invested in the stock market, but that isn’t true for the struggling middle class or the working poor.  Most Americans are hardworking and don’t want handouts.  They want to live the “American Dream” of being able to provide a decent life for themselves and their families.

comments » 1

  1. Comment by Barbara Rosensteel

    February 13, 2020 at 11:27 pm

    The costs of living have gone up at a much faster rate than have paychecks. And to add to that, your analysis is for a single person or childless couple. it is even worse when you take into account the cost of raising a child on minimum wage pay. And the impossibility of paying for child care so that you might go to work, and end up essentially handing most of your paycheck to the daycare provider. That is if you can even get child care since most of these minimum wage jobs are not 9-5 jobs and often require working early mornings, late evenings, or nights.

    But, business owners should not worry…..this bill was introduced by a Democrat, which are in a super-MINORITY in the TN legislature. The Republicans will never let this see the light of day.


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