By Don McIntosh
Legislative assistants who work for individual Oregon lawmakers could soon be the first such workers in the nation to unionize. On Dec. 8, IBEW Local 89 turned in union authorization cards signed by a majority of the workers. But on Dec. 20, attorneys for the Oregon Department of Justice filed objections, arguing that the Legislature isn’t a “public employer” under the state’s public sector union law, that this group would not be an appropriate bargaining unit because they work for 90 separate and very political bosses, and that they’re all “supervisory” or “confidential” employees.
The two sides traded arguments at a Feb. 25 hearing in front of an administrative law judge. Union attorney Dan Hutzenbiler said Democrat and Republican lawmakers may quarrel, but their staff work together and get along. To say they couldn’t be in the same union would be like saying Blazers players can’t be in the same union as Lakers players, Hutzenbiler said.
On April 6, Oregon’s Employment Relations Board (ERB) issued a ruling rejecting all the objections. The Legislature makes the laws, ERB said, and could exclude its own employees, but didn’t do that when it wrote the law. ERB ordered a union election for roughly 180 workers to go forward.