American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations

The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) is the largest federation of labor unions in the United States. Formed in 1955 in a merger between the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the AFL-CIO boasts membership of over 9 million voting members and 3 million associate members.1 While the AFL-CIO retains a large member base, the proportion of the workforce that is organized by labor unions has declined substantially since the 1960s.2 Since 2021, Liz Shuler has led the AFL-CIO; she succeeded controversial late president Richard Trumka after Trumka died in office.

While the union federation has generally supported Democrats and liberal candidates, it was once far more centrist than it has been since an internal power struggle in the mid-1990s. Under former presidents George Meany and Lane Kirkland, the AFL-CIO was staunchly anti-Communist, going so far as to refuse to endorse Democratic presidential candidate Sen. George McGovern in 1972 over McGovern’s opposition to the Vietnam War.3

Under Kirkland’s successor John Sweeney and through Trumka’s terms in office, the union has aligned much more closely with the Democratic Party and the organizational left. After Sweeney took over as the union’s president with Trumka as his chief lieutenant, the AFL-CIO increased its support for liberal politicians and progressive causes, including those unrelated to the economy and collective bargaining.4

This trend only accelerated under Richard Trumka’s leadership. In the AFL-CIO’s 2016 fiscal year, the union reported $45,972,521 in political activities and lobbying (including $8,165,576 in deposits of employee-elected contributions to the union’s political action committee).5 Recipients of AFL-CIO dues-funded contributions include the Center for American Progress (CAP) Action Fund, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), and the New World Foundation.6 The federation has also proposed admitting progressive groups other than unions, including the NAACP, the Sierra Club, and MomsRising, to its membership as either formal partners or affiliates.7 In 2021, Trumka died in office and was replaced as president by the federation’s secretary-treasurer Liz Shuler.8


  1. AFL-CIO, Department of Labor Annual Report (Form LM-2), 2016, Schedule 13a
  2. Bui, Quoctrung. “50 Years Of Shrinking Union Membership, In One Map.” NPR. February 23, 2015. Accessed October 19, 2016.
  3. Serrin, William. “Lane Kirkland, Who Led Labor In Difficult Times, Is Dead at 77.” The New York Times. August 15, 1999. Accessed October 04, 2016.
  4. Weinstein, Kenneth R. “From Meany to Sweeney: Labor’s Leftward Tilt.” The Heritage Foundation. October 4, 1996. Accessed October 04, 2016.
  5. AFL-CIO, Department of Labor Annual Report (Form LM-2), 2016, Line 51 and Schedule 16
  6. AFL-CIO, Department of Labor Annual Report (Form LM-2), 2016, Schedules 16 and 17
  7. Greenhouse, Steven. “A.F.L.-C.I.O. Has Plan to Add Millions of Nonunion Members.” The New York Times. September 06, 2013. Accessed October 04, 2016.
  8. Davis, Wynne. “Liz Shuler Becomes the 1st Woman to Lead the AFL-CIO.” NPR. NPR, August 21, 2021.

Officers and Key Figures

Senior leadership and former leadership of the federation

Member National Unions

National labor unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO