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The Daily Tar Heel
View from the Hill

What Tennessee's union fight means for North Carolina

Last week, unions faced a tough defeat after auto workers in Tennessee voted against the joining a union.

Workers at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. voted against joining the United Auto Workers 712 to 626.

Before the vote, Tennessee politicians like Republican Sen. Bob Corker criticized unionization.

Almost all states in the South, including North Carolina and Tennessee, are right-to-work states, meaning workers do not have to join a union to work in a particular job.

Labor unions say these right to work laws hurt workers by weakening unions.

Unsurprisingly, union membership is also lower in Southern states.

Had workers voted yes, it would have proved a sign that unions could have an inroad in the South.

Last year, the AFL-CIO passed a resolution committing to organizing unions in the South.

“They realize they must organize the South and the South drives down wages nationwide,” said Marybe McMillan, secretary-treasurer of the N.C. State AFL-CIO.

But the Tennessee vote shows the significant hurdles to union organizing in the South.

And even greater challenges exist in North Carolina. The state has the lowest union membership in the country.

Furthermore, last year, Republican legislators in N.C. General Assembly, including House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, introduced three amendments to the state constitution regarding unions.

The amendments would put right-to-work laws in the state’s constitution and outlaw collective bargaining between state and local governments and a union representing employees, as well as have secret ballots for unionizing.

While the laws were not passed last year, if pushed through during the short session in May, they would go on the state ballot as a referendum, where unions could find themselves facing their next big fight in the South.

View from the Hill is a political blog by Daily Tar Heel staff writers. Any opinion expressed in it does not represent the Daily Tar Heel. Email the blog coordinator at

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