Parental Consent to Join Union? Texas Bill Says It’s Needed

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By Jaclyn Diaz

A Texas bill that would require workers under the age of 18 to receive parental consent to join a union is both unlawful and “outrageous,” union officials in Texas told Bloomberg BNA April 20.

Sen. Jane Nelson (R), the lawmaker who drafted the bill, says it’s an attempt to protect inexperienced young people.

The measure was passed April 11 in the Texas Senate. It now sits in the Texas House for review. Texas is a right-to-work state.

“This legislation preserves the rights of parents and protects minors from entering into a financial contract they may not fully understand,” Nelson said in a statement after the vote.

Food, Retail Industries

Teenagers most often work in the food and retail industry, Ed Sills, the communications director for the Texas AFL-CIO, told Bloomberg BNA April 19. The bill, if passed, could greatly affect the UFCW in Texas. Approximately 2,000 teenagers are members of the Texas UFCW, he said.

Sills called the measure “especially outrageous” considering the labor movement’s history of leading the fight against child labor.

“We strongly believe the law is unconstitutional,” Anthony Elmo, communications and political director for UFCW Local 1000, told Bloomberg BNA April 20. Local 1000 intends to take the issue to court if the bill becomes law.

Oklahoma has had a similar law in place since 2011. Elmo said as far as he knows, the law was neither enforced nor challenged in court.

Long-Term Agenda?

Current union members under 18 would be grandfathered in if the Texas bill becomes law, Elmo said. The law would apply to new members starting Jan. 1.

The union’s concern is with future generations. “Most 16- and 17-year-olds look at unions as a positive. That’s why anti-union lawmakers are against it,” he said. The bill would turn teen workers against unions, he said.

Nelson filed the bill in response to the concerns of one constituent, whose 17-year-old daughter was persuaded to join a union without fully understanding the terms of the agreement, she said in a statement to Bloomberg BNA April 20.

But Elmo questioned the timing of the bill. The union and grocery store giant Kroger are undergoing collective bargaining for a new contract. In Texas, many of the young workers UFCW represents work for Kroger.

Kroger representatives said the company has no plans to take a position on the bill in response to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment on Elmo’s claims.

Attorney: Bill Won’t Pass Muster

In general, minors can’t legally enter into contracts, John Vail, a constitutional lawyer in Washington, D.C., told Bloomberg BNA April 20. Under common law, minors aren’t considered “persons” with the same legal rights as people over the age of 18.

However, in the case of union contracts and employment, the situation is different, he said. The National Labor Relations Act established that any employee, including minors, can organize.

“Any federal law, like the National Labor Relations Act, trumps the state law. If the federal law says 16-year-olds have the right to join a union, then that trumps any state law that says otherwise,” Vail said. “In any conflict between state and federal law, the federal law always wins.”

This bill won’t stand up to any lawsuit the UFCW files, Vail predicts.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jaclyn Diaz in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at; Terence Hyland at; Christopher Opfer at

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