Joining a Union

Text says "Know Your Rights: Joining a Union." Graphic shows six illustrated fists raised in solidarity.

Yes, even in Texas, all public school employees are entitled to join a union. And yes, Texas AFT is a union.

What is a union?

At the most basic level, you can define a labor union simply: employees organized to protect their rights and interests and to advance their profession.

Frequently, people claim, “there are no unions in Texas” or “teachers unions aren’t allowed in Texas.” As supporting evidence, they usually argue that Texas has banned collective bargaining for most public employees (true), as well as striking (true).

While those two rights are hallmarks of labor unions — and our legislative agenda always includes fighting for them — they are not requirements for the union label.

Texas AFT is a union:

  • We are affiliated nationally with the American Federation of Teachers, which has bargaining and non-bargaining unions across the country.
  • Additionally, we are affiliated with the AFL-CIO, as well as the Texas AFL-CIO. (In fact, we are the largest union in the Texas AFL-CIO.)
  • We have more than 30 autonomous, self-governed local unions.
  • The IRS has designated us as a 501(c)(5) labor union, and we are required to report certain financial information accordingly.
  • While we may not have collective bargaining statewide, several of our local unions have elected consultation in their districts, allowing one (elected) organization to represent school employees in negotiations about pay and working conditions.

‘Right-to-Work’ States

Texas is a “right-to-work” state, or as we like to call it, a “right-to-work-for-less” state. Unions aren’t banned in “right-to-work” states. (That’s illegal.) But union membership cannot be compulsory for employment.

In Texas, all educators and school employees can choose to join a union. Your district cannot fire you for doing so or for advocating for your rights.

Education Unions in Texas

Besides Texas AFT, the Texas State Teachers Association, which is affiliated with the National Education Association, is the only other teachers union. In fact, we have three “merged” local unions affiliated with both Texas AFT/AFT and TSTA/NEA:

But what about the other statewide organizations? The Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE) and the Texas Classroom Teachers Association (TCTA) are professional associations, not unions.

While each of these four organizations offer similar benefits in terms of insurance and legal representation, only Texas AFT and TSTA actively advocate for union rights, including collective bargaining and the right to strike. Of those two options, only Texas AFT offers membership to all non-administrative public school employees; TSTA (like ATPE) accepts administrators as members.

Even with these differences, all four organizations often work together on issues facing our public schools, particularly during legislative sessions.

Legal Information

Joining Our Union

Public school employees should know their rights but also their power. We know we’re strongest when we stand together. Will you stand with us and join our union? Check out our membership benefits and join today.