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Senate backs bill requiring minors obtain parental consent before joining unions

Minors in the state may be required to obtain parental approval before they can join a labor union under a proposal the Texas Senate tentatively approved along party lines Monday.

Happy Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, watches passage of SB 1 budget bill on a 30-1 vote April 14, 2015.  Lone no vote was Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston.

Editor's note: This story was updated April 11 to reflect the Senate's final passage of the bill. 

*Clarification appended

Minors in the state may be required to obtain parental approval before they can join a labor union under a proposal the Texas Senate tentatively approved along party lines Monday. (The Senate formally approved the bill Tuesday on a 20-11 vote.) 

Under current state law, minors can secure most types of employment without parental consent, with a few exceptions such as acting jobs in movies and plays or soliciting goods and services.  

Senate Bill 75 by state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, would require parental consent for minors to join a union, but contains provisions to accommodate those who are emancipated from parents or a guardian. 

“My bill preserves the rights of parents to see economic decisions,” Nelson said. In a committee hearing last month, Nelson said she filed the measure in response to concerns from a constituent whose daughter “was persuaded to join a union without fully understanding” the terms of agreement. “This bill is a parental consent bill,” she added.

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, was the sole senator to challenge Nelson’s proposal during debate over the bill Monday, telling her the measure would significantly change current law.

“You’re increasing the power of government” under this bill, he told Nelson. “Should I be talking to the Liberty Caucus?”

Some union leaders argue the bill would target minors employed by grocery stores while unfairly limiting their freedom and opportunity in the workplace.

Between 1,500 and 2,000 minors in Texas currently belong to a local United Food and Commercial Workers chapter, a private-sector union representing baggers and clerks at grocery stores across the state, according to Anthony Elmo, the group’s communications and political director.

He told the Tribune that SB 75 was “completely inappropriate” and said if people were old enough to work in the state, they were old enough to make decisions to participate in unions.

“The Texas Senate has made itself out to be anti-union, anti-worker, and they’re looking to hurt working people,” he said. “Why are we standing against a young person deciding to be a part of a civic organization and making this out to be some bad thing?”

Because Texas is a “right-to-work” state, employers can’t require employees to pay dues or join labor unions and other associations. No minors currently belong to a state or public union or association for which the state collects dues, the state comptroller’s office told the Tribune.

In a committee hearing last month, William Schlabach, one of the two parents Nelson said had inspired the drafting of SB 75, said a man at his daughter’s orientation for her summer job at a grocery store made it sound as if joining a labor union was essential to employment.

“Until that night, I did not know Kroger employed unionized workers,” he told the committee, adding the union returned his daughter’s union dues within a few weeks of him filing a complaint.

The Senate is expected to give SB 75 final approval Tuesday. An identical House counterpart by state Rep. Tan Parker has been referred to the House Economic & Small Business Development Committee.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • The Texas Senate tentatively approved a measure that would end the state’s practice of collecting public employee membership dues for certain labor unions and other associations through payroll organizations.

  • The Senate State Affairs Committee greenlighted a bill to the full Senate Thursday that would end the state’s practice of collecting dues for certain public employee unions through automatic payroll deductions.

  • Legislation to stop automatic payroll deductions for most public employee unions is back after failing two years ago. Supporters say the state shouldn't be involved in collecting union dues; opponents say the GOP is trying to cripple certain unions.  

Clarification: This story was updated to make clear that Senate Bill 75 would require parental consent for minors to join a union.


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