By Ed Sills
HB 1987, the House version of the bill that would require parental consent for a minor to join a labor union in Texas, today ran into some serious resistance in the form of hard-hitting testimony explaining why unions should not be R-rated.
The hearing before the House Economic and Small Business Development Committee also was distinguished by what may be a first-ever remark in the annals of Texas labor history.
“Thank you very much,” the cordial Chair Angie Chen Button, R-Garland, told Cassidee Griffin, a 24-year-old Kroger employee who joined the United Food and Commercial Workers union at the age of 16. “Your parents should be very proud of you.”
Griffin had told the committee that at one point in her employment she was being underpaid by $3 an hour, a situation that the union helped her remedy, back pay included.
“I am here today to testify against this bill because when I was old enough to make the choice to go to work, I was old enough to make the choice to join a union,” Griffin said.
Griffin, who has recently performed field organizing work for the state labor federation, said 16- and 17-year-old workers at Kroger are trusted to handle cash, return lost children to their parents and dodge reckless drivers in the parking lot. “They ought to be trusted by elected leaders in Austin to voluntarily join a union, if they choose,” Griffin said.
Joe Montemayor, a former UFCW member who is now with the Texas State Employees Union, testified that he worked for a non-union grocery store at the age of 16 and without parental consent performed tasks that were dangerous if not illegal.
“We got little to no training,” Montemayor said. “They would lift us on fork lifts, balancing on pallets, to throw away rotten meat too heavy to lift into a dumpster. We would work hours in 100-degree Houston weather unloading trucks of canned goods or sweeping/painting stripes of the parking lot.”
And what happened when workers complained? “We would be answered with threats of termination and harassment.”
After Montemayor joined UFCW at Kroger, his training became professional, he obtained reimbursement for books used to attend college and he built up a small pension.
“The way I see things,” Montemayor said, “is that if you are old enough to work and get exploited, then you should be old enough to organize and join a union.”
The panel also heard other professional assessments of the bill.
Anthony Elmo, representing UFCW, said the union places heavy emphasis on safety training and advocating for decent benefits. Both of those goals are appreciated by 16- and 17-year-old employees, none of whom were required by law to get parental permission to work at Kroger.
Christa Davis, Public Relations Manager at the union-friendly American Income Life, said minors should get to make their own decision to join a union. Some of the benefits they receive in unions might include AIL’s products, but in every case they are benefits negotiated between Kroger and its employees.
Elaine Edwards, an attorney at Deats, Durst & Owen, offered an expert take on the legal landscape, arguing that HB 1987 would be unconstitutional because, among other things, it usurps a role that is exclusively reserved to the National Labor Relations Act. One lawmaker took note that groups like the Boy Scouts of America and high school girls’ soccer teams require parental consent, but Edwards made the distinction that those consents are related to medical permission, which is covered by a different area of the law.
No one testified in favor of the bill. The House sponsor, Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, cited Sen. Jane Nelson’s account of the genesis of SB 75, the Senate version.