Special Report

The States With the Strongest and Weakest Unions

11. Virginia
> Pct. of workers in unions:
5.4%
> Union workers: 201,931 (19th highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: 22.7% (5th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 4.1% (14th lowest)

Virginia is tied with three other states as having the lowest union representation in the country — just 5.4% of the state’s workforce are members of an organized labor group. Union membership in the state has actually risen quite substantially over the past decade. Union membership in the state increased from 164,580 workers in 2005 to more than 200,000 workers today, a 22.7% increase. Like all the states with low union membership, Virginia is a right-to-work law state, meaning non-union members are not required to pay union dues. Virginia was one of the first states to pass such a law, adopting the statute in January, 1947.

10. Tennessee
> Pct. of workers in unions:
5.4%
> Union workers: 145,868 (25th highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: 13.9% (12th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 4.9% (19th highest)

Unions have been historically weak in Southern states, and Tennessee is no exception. Only 5.4% of state workers belong to organized labor groups, one of the smallest shares of all states. Unlike most states, however, unions in Tennessee have been gaining members and influence in recent years. Union participation went up by 13.9% over the last decade, in contrast with a nationwide 5.7% decline in organized labor participation. In 2014, after United Auto Workers failed to gain a foothold at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, workers organized a collective bargaining group known as the American Council of Employees in order to negotiate with the leadership at VW.

9. North Dakota
> Pct. of workers in unions:
5.4%
> Union workers: 19,051 (2nd lowest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -9.3% (16th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 2.9% (3rd lowest)

Only Wyoming has fewer union workers than North Dakota, and that number is shrinking. There were roughly 21,000 union members in the state in 2005. Today, there are barely over 19,000 union workers in the state. While government employees only make up a small share of total U.S. employment, they are much more likely to be union members and so comprise nearly half of the country’s total organized labor force. In North Dakota, however, just 14.8% of state, federal, and local government employees are union members.

8. Mississippi
> Pct. of workers in unions:
5.4%
> Union workers: 59,870 (13th lowest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -22.4% (6th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 6.5% (2nd highest)

Mississippi’s private sector is more unionized than any of the 11 states with the lowest overall union membership — 4.4% of the state’s non-government workers are union members. In every other state on this list, private sector union membership is 3.5% or less. In the public sector, however, the state has nearly the lowest union representation of all states. Nationally, 35.2% of government workers are members of public sector unions, and 39% are covered by unions in some way. In Mississippi, just 9.4% of government workers are unionized, and just 11.5% are represented by unions, each the second lowest such share in the country. The size of organized labor in the state is also rapidly declining, down by 22.4% over the past decade.