Thanks—but no thanks. Texas is doing very well without politically connected labor unions driving public policy.

This weekend, we are likely to scroll past social media posts that claim, “if you like your weekends and 40-hour workweeks, thank a union.” Propaganda like this appears to be having some success, as recent polling by Gallup indicates that Americans are warming up to unions again, apparently having forgotten the damage these organizations have wrought on whole regions and industries, not to mention their leading role in closing schools. It’s time for a refresher on the real goals and impact of unions on working Texans.

Since 1947, Texas has been a “right-to-work” state, meaning that a person can’t be denied employment based on whether or not they are a union member. Generally speaking, right-to-work states are more attractive to employers and therefore have more personal income growth than states without this protection.

In May, our Legislature passed a law to ensure that there are uniform laws governing businesses across the state. Such a predictable regulatory environment makes it easier to open and operate businesses (which, in turn, creates jobs). Unions led the unsuccessful but powerful opposition to this bill, while killing other bills that would have expanded workforce training options for Texans.

The bitterness of the fight in the 88th Legislative Session should serve as a warning to citizens and lawmakers not to take our business-friendly environment for granted.

There are far fewer union members in today’s workforce than in the past, but the movement is gaining momentum because of the rising number of public sector union members. While many states, including Texas, ban public sector unions (though in Texas, police and firefighters have a carve-out), it’s important to recognize that public and private sector unions work together, share resources, and a common radical agenda. National and state teacher unions led the charge to keep schools closed during the pandemic and bear a large share of the responsibility for subsequent learning loss and mental health crises among young Americans.

Unions have been emboldened by the Biden administration’s rhetorical and practical support. Shortly after inauguration, President Joe Biden issued an executive order eliminating Industry-Recognized Apprenticeships (IRAPs), a program championed by the Trump administration. This was a top union priority, since the Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP) has been a key pipeline for union membership since its inception in 1937. Even though IRAPs didn’t include construction trades (the largest occupation category for private sector unions), the program represented an existential threat to organized labor, because it allowed employers to operate earn-while-you learn opportunities without the cooperation of trade unions.

For Texas to continue to be a magnet for employers, a trained workforce is essential. Yet jobs that do not require four-year college degrees—such as those in manufacturing, construction, and IT—are not being filled. In 2021, only 2,600 individuals completed registered apprenticeship programs in Texas. We have found that there are 24 times more open manufacturing jobs than registered apprenticeships. The ratio in construction is 5-to-1, 6-to-1 in information technology, and a staggering 514-to-1 in transportation. Clearly, RAs are not cutting it as a workforce development pipeline.

In the 88th Legislature’s regular session, unions led opposition to legislation that would have allowed Texas to create more workforce training opportunities by creating its own version of industry-recognized apprenticeships. In Texas law, registered apprenticeship programs—even those sponsored by employers—must include at least one “bargaining agent” of trade unions on the committee.

Despite the fact that any existing apprenticeship that met the standards set forth by the Texas Workforce Commission could have qualified for additional funding under the Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Program, unions rallied their supporters and killed the bill on a novel point of order on the eve of its passage.

Businesses are relocating to Texas in record numbers, and as one-way U-Haul rentals indicate, so are residents of other states. Our prosperity can make us complacent to the threat posed by organized labor. Private and public unions share resources and an anti-free market, anti-family agenda. Texas taxpayers direct subsidize unions through the registered apprenticeship program.

It’s 2023, not 1937, but our workforce policy hasn’t caught up. Unions have fought—not supported—opportunity for working Texans. This Labor Day, instead of giving thanks to a union, give thanks that Texas law has recognized that “the right to work is the right to live” and labor to keep it that way.


In a previous version of this piece, information reported in this article was incorrect; while rates of union membership are down in both the public and private sectors, the overall growth in labor market participation has led to a higher absolute number of union members, with net growth in the private sector.