Membership of the Texas AFL-CIO tends to mirror the economy. The Texas AFL-CIO has approximately 235,000 affiliated members. Historically speaking, 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 to as low as 190,000. For the last two decades, the state federation has gradually added members.
These figures tell only part of the overall union story in Texas. The Lone Star State has substantial union membership that does not affiliate or pay dues to the Texas AFL-CIO. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says if you add non-affiliates, about 462,000 union members work in Texas. In addition, more than 138,000 workers are covered by collective bargaining agreements but decline to pay for their union representation, a stance permitted by the so-called “right to work” law. 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, American Federation of Government Employees, Communications Workers of America, United Steel Workers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Fire Fighters, United Auto Workers, Transport Workers Union, International Association of Machinists and SMART (railroad workers, sheet metal workers et al.)
Generally speaking, public employee unions have experienced the strongest growth in recent years, but building and construction trades unions and service employee unions remain engaged in promising organizing campaigns. The numbers reflect a national shift toward a service and information economy and the growing importance of public employees as standard-setters in the work world.