Union membership drops in Tennessee as legislature considers putting right to work laws in state constitution

Signs for and against unionization are in a roundabout along Volkswagen Drive in front of the Volkswagen plant Friday, June 14, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. / Staff file photo

The number of Tennessee workers belonging to labor unions fell last year by nearly 13% despite an overall gain in employment across the Volunteer State, cutting the share of unionized workers in Tennessee to the 6th lowest rate among all states, according to government figures released Wednesday.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said 135,000 private-sector workers in Tennessee were members of labor unions in 2019, or 20,000 fewer than the previous year. The losses for organized labor reduced the share of unionized workers in the private sector in Tennessee from 5.5% of all workers in 2018 to only 4.6% of the workforce last year.

"In the South, it is a tough row to hoe for us, but I do think we've seen some positive signs, especially in helping with the building trades and some of the apprenticeship programs we have in local school systems in our bigger cities," said Billy Dycus, president of the Tennessee AFL-CIO.