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Another Government Employee Union
Just what Oregon needs

In a 75 to 31 vote (total eligible voters estimated at 180), Oregon Legislative staff -- the people who work for the State Senators and Representatives -- voted to unionize.

However, the union conversation is not new. SB 759 introduced by Senator Dembrow (D–Portland), Senator Gorsek (D–Portland) and Representative Wilde (D–Eugene) this session aimed to direct the Legislative Administrator to represent legislative departments in collective bargaining negotiations with legislative department employees, i.e., legislative employee unions.

However, after the bill passed the Senate on a party line vote, it was assigned to the House Rules committee where it has received just one hearing. This is possibly due to waiting for the outcome of the Legislative staff vote. During initial testimony on the bill, The Freedom Foundation testified that,

“Following recent attempts to organize a union of legislative employees, the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed multiple objections with the Employee Relations Board (ERB) on behalf of the Legislature arguing that such efforts would violate both the Oregon Constitution and the state’s collective bargaining laws.”

The pending outcome of the latest round of objections by Legislators themselves, however, did not stop a few other Legislators from continuing the conversation.

The union vote was organized by IBEW Local 89, located in Washington state. IBEW Local 89 represents workers in numerous industries including: Telecommunications Installation and Repair, Telecommunications Network Construction, Satellite installation and Repair, Warehouse and Logistics, Manufacturing, Clerical and Campaign workers. However, currently most state employees are unionized under SEIU 503. Staffers selected the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 89 to represent them, in part, because the IBEW does not actively lobby in state politics and SEIU 503 does.

In an email sent to Legislative staff from IBEW Local 89 they announced:

We are happy to announce the results of this morning’s union election. Through an overwhelming showing of bipartisan support, you and your coworkers have voted “UNION YES”!

This is a monumental win for every staffer in Oregon as well as those watching across the country. Through your solidarity, strength and determination, you all are leading the way for legislative staff everywhere to have a legitimate voice in their workplace and the power to make a difference.

What is interesting about the statement is that they said, “Through an overwhelming showing of bipartisan support”. However, the balloting process was portrayed to staff as a secret ballot. How does the IBEW know it was bipartisan?

The announcement from IBEW was quickly followed by a joint press release from House Speaker Kotek (D- Portland) and Senate President Courtney (D – Salem) saying:

“We are committed to supporting the needs of the Legislature’s dedicated staff. The people’s work could not be done without them. Today, Oregon legislative aides took the historic step of becoming the first union of legislative staff in the country. We respect their decision, hear their voices and look forward to bargaining in good faith with their new union.”

Several issues may still be unresolved even after the vote. Department of Justice lawyer Tessa Sugahara, was quoted in a February OPB article saying, “Legislative Branch employees are exempt from, and generally not subject to, the State Personnel Relations Law”. She went on to add “The collective bargaining policy objectives of the Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act are irreconcilable with the policy objectives of the Oregon Legislative Assembly, and This situation raises both conflict and loyalty considerations that the PECBA policy did not anticipate.”

When the union movement gets to a point of actual negotiations, it may also be the solution to a bill that Rep. Wilde (D- Eugene) brought forth this session but that has yet to be heard in the House Rules Committee. HB 2220 removes the ability for member of Legislative Assembly to appoint or employ relatives or members of their household as their legislative staff unless relative or member of household serves as unpaid volunteer.

A D V E R T I S E M E N T

A D V E R T I S E M E N T

As most Legislators do not live in Salem year-round, they often employ their spouse or family member as a way to spend more time together and to supplement their legislative / household income. In addition, having a family member as their Chief of staff is often important to maintaining confidentiality and consistent communications with their constituents. After all, who know them better than their family. Also, many of the Legislative staff positions are limited duration positions, meaning they work only during the actual legislative session and not during the “off season”. By hiring family, the Legislator is also able to maintain some historical knowledge from session to session. This becomes even more important if they are a long serving member. Institutional knowledge of past legislation and actions can help make them more successful in the representation of their constituents.

One thing is certain, for better or worse, Oregon is once again a trailblazer in the political world as the first in the nation Legislative Staff union. However, there are still potential legal challenges surrounding the separation of powers clause in the Oregon Constitution, and unanswered questions about how the union will operate with the potential conflicts with the PECBA policy objectives. But what mostly remains is the potential problems that will arise when political leaders must bargain with the very employees who possibly share the same household with them.


--Terese Humboldt

Post Date: 2021-05-30 09:14:37Last Update: 2021-05-30 17:54:22



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