Editor’s Note: The version published Feb. 8 included bar charts for union density. The current copy is updated with line charts to show a longer range union density trend. Edits did not change the original analysis.
From Amarillo to Houston, Texas workers are organizing and joining unions to raise wages, correct rising wealth inequality, and improve society as a whole. Today, unionized Texas workers are looking out for our common good.
2023 marked a critical point in Texas’ organizing history. Last year, we increased both the number of workers covered by a union as well as union density for the private and public sectors. While the Economic Policy Institute reports the national unionization level increased in 2023, meaning the actual number of union workers increased, overall union density decreased due to strong job growth that outpaced unionization efforts. However, Texas’ numbers diverge from the national trends. The Texas numbers may indicate a shift in the state trend towards a more balanced economy, where workers and their families share in the prosperity that their labor creates. Creating a more balanced economy starts with joining a union.
By The Numbers
Texans’ Persistent Organizing Efforts Deliver Results in 2023
Unions covered 701,000 Texan workers in 2023, a 58,000 worker increase from 2022. Texas ranks third among states with the largest increases in the number of workers covered by a union, following behind Florida (+67,000) and New Jersey (+63,000).
Public Sector Workers
The number of public sector workers covered by a union increased to 338,000 in 2023. Diverging from the national trend, Texas’ public sector union coverage grew by 6,000 workers and membership increased by 10,000 workers in 2023.
Texas public sector unions gained big wins in 2023 that raise the bar for working families of all backgrounds. Due to the advocacy of Texas State Employee Union (TSEU) and others, the state’s workforce won a 5% raise in 2023, the first since 2013, in addition to eight weeks of paid parental leave for workers who give birth or adopt a child. Some city workforces, through their unions, won higher minimum wages. Due to AFSCME Local 1624’s worker led advocacy, the City of Austin increased their public workforce base hourly wage to $20 per hour. The Texas American Federation of Teachers won a cost of living adjustment for retired educators who are struggling to make ends meet.
While public sector workers can join unions and advocate collectively for better pay and working conditions, Texas’ longstanding ban on collective bargaining has led to low pay and poor working conditions among public educators and state agency workers. The end result is lower quality public services for all Texans.
Private Sector Workers
In 2023, the number of private sector workers covered by a union increased to 366,000 from 310,000 in 2022.
Private sector workers continue to organize and demand a fair share in the prosperity their labor creates. Nurses, service, and media workers are finding power in forming unions to not only raise pay and improve benefits, but also to elevate the quality of services they provide to everyday Texans.
Zoom Out: How Texas Compares to Other States
In 2023, Texas experienced the largest increase in the number of people employed compared to the largest state workforces in the country: California, Florida, and New York. Texas experienced a 4% job growth rate – the highest in the nation. Despite that record growth, there were just that many more workers that needed to join unions in Texas in order to maintain union density.
In 2023, Texas increased the number of total employed Texans by 527,000, the highest growth in the last seven years.
Even with the largest job growth in seven years, workers and their unions were able to increase the share of workers covered by a union from 5.1% in 2022 to 5.4%. In 2023, the US experienced a total increase of 191,000 workers represented by a union, but density or the share of union workers decreased by 0.1%.
Texas’ private sector union coverage density rose to 3.2% in 2023, up from 2.9% in 2022. Given that Texas added a record number of jobs, this increase is a good sign that union density held steady. Nationally, private sector density increased from 6.8% in 2022 to 6.9% in 2023.
Texas public sector density remained at 19.3% while membership grew by 0.3%. Nationally, public sector density declined from 36.8% to 36.0%.
In summary, 2023 is a triumphant year for Texas workers. Our state experienced substantial growth in the total number of Texans employed, while union coverage, membership levels, and density held steady. These results speak to Texas workers’ organizing efforts and vision of a balanced economy where families of all backgrounds can prosper together.
Public Policy Should Reflect Our Shared Values
Texas workers are resilient against our state’s most powerful elected officials, as they try to hinder working families and their unions. We need state level policy to lift Texas’ ban on public sector worker collective bargaining and to reverse the economically damaging right-to-work laws. These ambitious steps are necessary in order to close the widening gap between Texas’ wealthy few and its hard working families. On the federal level, passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act will both restore and strengthen American workers’ ability to join a union and collective bargain.
Texas employers must recognize that when workers share in the prosperity that their labor creates, every Texan wins. Unions are a way for workers and their families to not only earn more, but also gain better access to health care and retirement benefits. We can raise the bar for every Texan – it starts with workers and unions.
Every Texan’s workforce is proudly unionized. Every Texan United is a bargaining unit of the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union.