Feb 8, 2024 - News

Texas unions see slight growth amid national low

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Note: Values are not seasonally adjusted; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Note: Values are not seasonally adjusted; Chart: Axios Visuals

The share of Texas workers who are union members remains one of the lowest in the nation, but recent data show a slight uptick in joiners over the last three years.

What's happening: Just 4.5% of the Texas workforce were union members in 2023, up from 3.8% in 2021, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Why it matters: Advocates say unions are a needed proponent of worker rights and compensation, while critics say unions throttle progress in the workplace.

Context: The national drop in union workers came despite approval of unions in 2022 reaching its highest point since 1965, according to Gallup.

Zoom in: In recent years, Austin has seen new unionization efforts by baristas, nurses, pizza workers and journalists.

What they're saying: Rick Levy, Texas AFL-CIO president, said the latest growth matches what the labor group has seen in the state.

  • "The number of new unions that are forming here is more than any time I can remember," he told Axios.
  • Levy said the AFL-CIO is seeing employees unionize in industries that "have never even heard the 'U' word before," such as tech, nonprofits and coffee shops. "We have some work to do to keep up with the moment."

Yes, but: Texas has a long way to go to be in line with national figures, and Levy said that's partly because national groups haven't seen the state as fertile ground for organizing.

  • Twenty-seven states, including Texas have "right to work" laws in place that prevent private-sector unions from collecting fees from all members.
  • The laws remain a headwind as union organizing efforts pick up, labor advocates say.

What we're watching: How union rates in 2024 will be impacted by a deceleration in statewide job growth.

  • The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas this week reported a slowdown in Texas job growth during the last three months of 2023, suggesting a return to a more historically normal pace of expansion.
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