The Texas AFL-CIO is an umbrella group for labor unions in Texas under the AFL-CIO. While it does not directly represent workers in negotiations, it speaks as the political voice for 70 affiliated unions and trades councils whose membership includes longshoremen, bricklayers, government employees, construction workers, roofers, and other employees. The group is one of 52 local federations that conduct activities in coordination with the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of labor unions in the country. The Texas AFL-CIO claims that its associated labor unions have 235,000 members.
The Texas State AFL-CIO was created by the merger of the Texas State Federation of Labor and the Texas State CIO Council in 1957. The latter group had formed two decades earlier, as the Texas State Industrial Union Council, when industrial unionists split from the national American Federation of Labor.
Organized labor emerged as “a political and social force in Texas” after World War II. The CIO and AFL began endorsing statewide candidates in the 1940s, and in 1958, the newly merged AFL-CIO began rating state lawmakers and getting involved in legislative races. Union membership in Texas peaked around 1960, at 400,000 members, including 375,000 members of AFL-CIO affiliates.
Union influence in Texas has declined as the state has become more Hispanic and more women have entered the workforce. Another key factor has been the decline of union-heavy sectors such as mining and manufacturing. During the Texas oil bust of the 1980s, membership in the AFL-CIO declined from 300,000 in 1984 to 220,000 in 1989.
The state’s pro-business climate has also prevented unions from dominating political debates. The state’s rate of union membership, at 4 percent, is under half the national rate, as it has been since at least 2000.
The Texas AFL-CIO has in recent years searched for new strategies to remain relevant as the nature of work has changed, with contracting and outsourcing becoming more prevalent. In Texas, the union has broadened the scope of its activities, getting involved in debates over immigration, the minimum wage, and identity politics.
Politics and Policy
The AFL-CIO’s high-water point politically in Texas was the 1982 Democratic sweep of statewide offices. Labor’s influence has been more muted since then. In 1991, the group opened up endorsements to candidates beyond Democrats in general elections.
Workers’ Compensation Law (1989-1995)
In 1989, the Texas Legislature met in two special sessions on workers’ compensation, passing a bill that supporters said would reduce runaway costs but that labor groups said were unfair to workers.  Texas’ workers’ compensation rates were some of the highest in the country. Under the measure, lawyers’ fees in workers’ compensation cases were limited, and the maximum benefit was increased. The bill put restrictions on death benefits and allowed employers to self-insure. The bill specified that injured workers would choose from an approved list of doctors.
In November 1990, the Texas AFL-CIO sued to stop the measure from going into effect, and the next month a district judge blocked most of the new law, finding it unconstitutional. The law was allowed to take effect as scheduled in 1992, even though appeals were pending.
Inmate Labor (1995-1996)
In 1995, the Texas AFL-CIO drew attention to a program under which companies employed state inmates to produce their products, with the state withholding a portion of the inmates’ pay. The labor group said the program was unfair because companies using the program had lower overhead and could shift work to inmate work centers from other locations. Over the objections of the AFL-CIO, the state comptroller in 1996 recommended expansion of the prison industries program.
Workers’ Compensation (2005)
In 2005, the state Legislature passed a bill to create managed care doctor networks and increase benefits by up to 12 percent under its workers’ comp system. The system had been criticized as too costly by industry and labor groups, and the AFL-CIO went along cautiously with the reforms.
Texas Future Project (2014)
See Texas Future Project (for-profit)
In 2014 the late prominent Democratic donor and trial lawyer Steve Mostyn announced a project modeled on the national Democracy Alliance to strengthen Democratic Party power in the state. The Texas Future Project would not collect money directly but would coordinate donations and strategy among left-leaning groups. Unions including the AFL-CIO helped start the project.
Union Dues Collection (2017)
In 2017 the state Senate passed a bill to stop automatic payroll deduction of union dues for certain public employees. The bill covered the collection of dues for state employees and teachers but exempted firefighters and police. Supporters said government should not play a role in collecting union dues, which for teachers in Texas topped $115 million from 2010 through 2016.  Opponents including the AFL-CIO said the measure would put undue burden on members to pay dues separately. A companion measure in the House failed to pass.
A similar measure failed to pass in 2015.
Texas AFL-CIO lists two related organizations:
AFL-CIO state COPE fund. The political committee files with the state Ethics Commission as the State COPE Fund and had $127,223 on hand as of July 15, 2017.