Aparna Kumar,

Issued April 10, 2023

SEIU’s Henry: Expulsion of Tennessee legislators is a blatant attack on democracy, free speech and communities of color

WASHINGTON - SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry released the following statement after the Tennessee General Assembly voted to remove two legislators:

“The Republican-controlled Tennessee General Assembly took alarming, racist, and authoritarian action in expelling State Representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson.

Their protest of the senseless murder of school children with military-grade weapons was a plea to our collective conscience, but instead has been used as a pretext to usurp representation and power from Black and Brown voters. The conservative lawmakers who attack the rights, fair wages, and work standards for public sector workers are the same ones who have now taken draconian action to quell opposition to their amoral inaction on gun violence. SEIU’s members condemn their illegitimate efforts, which set a dangerous precedent that could have far-reaching implications for democracy in statehouses across the country.

Expelled Representatives Jones and Pearson and censured Representative Gloria Johnson were standing with more than 136,000 constituents, primarily people of color, in districts across the state to demand action on gun violence in the wake of yet another deadly school shooting. The targeted removal of two young Black legislators without due process is not only an extreme measure that endangers democracy, it also raises serious concerns about the unequal treatment of Black representatives and other legislators of color. Representatives Jones and Pearson share a background as community organizers, and were continuing a tradition of peaceful protest exemplified by Dr. King and members of the Nashville Student Movement.

This attack on democracy, part of a troubling pattern of disenfranchisement and ongoing efforts to silence the voices of communities of color and the Black leaders they elect, runs counter to the principles of equality and justice for all that the Service Employees International Union fights for in Tennessee and across the United States. SEIU remains unwavering in our commitment to build a society in which every voice is heard and represented. We join with SEIU members across Tennessee to demand Representatives Jones and Pearson are reinstated. We will continue to champion the rights and dignity of workers of every race nationwide against these divisive, racist, undemocratic attacks.