By Don McIntosh
In what could be the first union of legislative staff in the nation, Oregon legislative aides are seeking to unionize with IBEW Local 89. Supporters are signing union cards. If they get a majority, the unit would consist of about 110 permanent year-round staff who work for individual state lawmakers, plus seasonal staff who serve when the Legislature is in session.
Zoe Klingmann, legislative director for State Rep. Julie Fahey (D-Eugene), says legislative workers have discussed unionizing for years. This year, that talk turned to action. Above all, staff want to have some say when their compensation and work conditions are being decided. Without a union, they’ve had no input on COVID-19 safety protocols, and little input into plans to end arbitrary pay in order to comply with a new statewide pay equity law. Pay varies widely among the workers. Legislators pay staff out of the fixed amount they receive for all expenses, and some subsidize staff pay with campaign contributions. Workers also lack basic union protections like “just cause,” due process, and progressive discipline.
Staffers chose IBEW Local 89 because IBEW has a record of cooperative rather than contentious relationships with employers, and because Local 89 is nonpartisan and politically neutral, with neither a political action committee nor any agenda at the Legislature. Headquartered in Mt. Vernon, Washington, the 900-member local represents telecommunications line workers in Oregon and Washington, and parts of Idaho, Montana, and California.
“I have not talked to a single staffer who has told me they do not support this,” said union supporter Logan Gilles, chief policy adviser for State Sen. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland).
LEGISLATIVE LEADERS’ RESPONSE: House speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney sent a letter to legislators reminding them that Oregon law bars them as public employers from attempting to influence or interfere in any way – in support or opposition of unionization. See the letter here.