The Texas AFL-CIO is a state federation of labor unions representing 235,000 members in Texas. We advocate for working people -- union and non-union alike -- in the political and legislative arenas. We provide support for unions in organizing new members and we coordinate a variety of community service, volunteer and educational programs.
Delegates at the Texas AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention govern the state federation. The policies set forth at our conventions are carried out by the officers of the Texas AFL-CIO – currently, President John Patrick, Secretary-Treasurer Rick Levy and a 65-member Executive Board. The Texas AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education (COPE) makes statewide political endorsements at its conventions in January of even years.
The Texas AFL-CIO works closely with Central Labor Councils (CLCs) around the state. The councils are part of the national AFL-CIO. The Texas AFL-CIO also works closely with constituency groups representing Hispanics, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, women and retirees affiliated with organized labor. The federation works with a variety of allies, including members of Working America, which allows non-union members to become active in the labor movement.
All AFL-CIO unions in Texas pay per capita dues to their national organizations, which in turn pay per capita dues to the national AFL-CIO. But affiliation with the Texas AFL-CIO and other state federations is voluntary.
Membership tends to fluctuate within a relatively narrow range, mirroring the economy. Texas AFL-CIO membership was slightly more than 150,000 at the time of the merger between the AFL and CIO in the mid-1950s. It peaked at more than 290,000 at the start of the Reagan presidency in 1981, then dropped dramatically during the oil bust of the 1980s. In 1990, membership was 203,400; in 1995, it was 197,462.
These figures tell only part of the story. Texas has substantial union membership that does not affiliate or pay dues to the Texas AFL-CIO. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that if you add non-affiliates, about 537,000 union members work in Texas. In addition, more than 100,000 workers are covered by collective bargaining agreements but decline to pay for their union representation in this “right-to-work-for-less” state; nevertheless, unions are obligated by law to represent those workers in contract talks and grievance procedures.
Texas has more than 1,300 local unions. The largest Texas AFL-CIO affiliates in the state (memberships above 5,000) are the Texas AFT, Communications Workers of America, American Federation of Government Employees, United Steel Workers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Fire Fighters, United Auto Workers, Transport Workers Union, International Association of Machinists and United Transportation Union.
Generally speaking, public employee unions have experienced the strongest growth in recent years, but building and construction trades unions and some service unions remain engaged in promising organizing campaigns. The numbers reflect the national shift toward a service and information economy and the growing importance of public employee unions. Besides AFSCME and AFGE, the CWA numbers include the Texas State Employees Union. Some medical professionals, including podiatrists, doctors and nurses, have joined unions. Organizers continue to see health care and low-wage professions like hotel workers as a major target; high tech industry remains on the horizon. Recent changes in organized labor’s policy toward immigrant workers have made low-wage “day workers” and others at the bottom of the economic rung a prime target for organizing.
As for geography, we count our members in Central Labor Councils, which are sometimes not neatly located in one city. The ones with 5,000 or more members include: Austin, Coastal Bend, Dallas, El Paso, Galveston, Harris County, Sabine Area, San Antonio, Smith County, and Tarrant County.
Some of the highlights of our programs include:
Legislation and Politics – We support legislation that benefits union families and the working public at large. We work diligently to defeat harmful legislation, a key pursuit in an era when labor’s friends have not won high office in Texas. We also support political candidates who we perceive will help our cause. Political endorsements are made through our Committee on Political Education. Legislative policies are established through the delegates to our conventions, the United Labor Legislative Committee and our Executive Board. All the governing bodies are representative of our membership. Among labor’s achievements in recent legislative sessions: pay raises for teachers; an electric deregulation bill with pro-worker provisions; a state holiday honoring UFW founder Cesar Chavez; improvements in the workers’ compensation system; a statewide public school employee health care plan; a pay raise for state employees; an increase in the state minimum wage; a hate crimes bill; and new bargaining rights for public employees.
Community Services/Volunteers – This department helps working people who are on strike, victimized by disasters or otherwise in need of assistance. Affiliated programs help adults learn to read or offer them guidance if they abuse drugs or alcohol. Our volunteers are a key to maintaining good community relations, helping not only when we promote a political cause, but when we are simply trying to help our neighbors. The Texas AFL-CIO also helps direct the operations of the Workers Assistance Program, a grant-funded, nationally recognized organization that helps workers navigate difficulties in their lives.
Human Relations – This department works on mobilization of working people around the state, organizing actions and maintaining grass-roots contact with a statewide network of activists.
Communications – The Texas AFL-CIO publishes a daily e-mail newsletter that is available to union members, retirees and journalists. To subscribe, send name, e-mail address and union or media affiliation to firstname.lastname@example.org. As part of our public relations program, we maintain relationships with reporters throughout the state, holding news conferences and interviews to get our points across. The public relations department also helps individual unions with letters to the editor, editorials and honing of messages.
Education and Research – The Texas AFL-CIO prepares and conducts educational programs for affiliates and their members. Topics have included union organizing, labor law, political organizing, workers’ compensation, steward training, grievances and arbitration, communications, the Americans With Disabilities Act and job training. On request, we will address other topics as warranted. The legal workshop offers college course credit as part of the National Labor College at the AFL-CIO. The Education Department also administers an annual scholarship program in which at least 20 (more than 30 in recent years) graduating high school seniors who are children of union members receive $1,000 scholarships.