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Yes, the Carolinas have the lowest union participation rates in the country

Just over 10% of American workers were union members in 2021. State laws make it difficult to form unions in the Carolinas, legal experts say.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — About 14 million Americans are part of a union, which is an organization formed by workers to give them a stronger voice in the workplace

Unions have been around since the 1800s, but throughout the years, union membership has slowly declined. Just 10.3% of American workers were union members in 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. When data on union membership was first collected in 1983, that number was at 20.1%. 

How do North Carolina and South Carolina compare to the rest of the U.S. when it comes to union participation? 

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Do the Carolinas have the lowest union participation rates in the country? 



Yes, the Carolinas have the lowest union participation rates in the country. 


This is true.


North Carolina and South Carolina are at the bottom of the list when it comes to union participation, the study found. A mere 2.6% of North Carolina workers are union members, while South Carolina's number is even lower at 1.7%. 

"Part of the reason that we have such low union density is our laws that are stacked against workers organizing and forming unions," McMillan said. 

Some of these laws make it difficult for unions to negotiate for members, according to McMillan. 

"We are one of just a few states that makes it completely illegal for city, county and state workers to collectively bargain a contract," McMillan said. "So they can join a union, but they cant collectively negotiate their terms of employment, their wages, and can't have a contract."

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a slight uptick in workers trying to unionize. Some of the highest-profile cases involved Amazon and Starbucks workers pushing to unionize. Fast food workers staged protests across the country for better wages and working conditions, including here in North Carolina.

"With the pandemic, workers just got fed up being called essential but being expendable," McMillian said. 

There is a national push for federal labor laws that would give unions more of a say. 

"The pro act would really put stiff penalties for companies that try to stop people from unionizing," said McMillan. 

Contact Meghan Bragg at mbragg@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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