Oregon legislative aides become first in nation to unionize

“Local 89. Local 89. No representation. Local 89.” One by one, Oregon Employment Relations Board election coordinator Sabrina Dunsworth examined, displayed, and announced the vote, which took place live via Zoom May 28.

By Don McIntosh

Oregon’s Democratic and Republican state legislators may not agree on much, but their staff agree on something big: They want a union. When union election ballots were counted May 28, they became the first-ever unit of state legislative staff in the nation to unionize, voting 75-31 to join IBEW Local 89.

The staff members are public employees who are hired by and work directly for individual lawmakers, managing their offices, helping constituents, and assisting with scheduling, outreach, and policy research.

UNION SHOP: Now, when you call the office of your Oregon state senator or state representative, the staff member who answers your call will be a fellow union member.

Altogether, 136 ballots were received, but lawyers representing the Oregon Legislature challenged the right of 30 workers to vote in the union election, arguing that they have supervisory duties and are closer to managers. 

“Based on the evidence we saw, they were bogus challenges, and had no merit,” says Local 89 Business Rep. Tony Ruiz.

Oregon’s Employment Relations Board held the challenged ballots off to the side, and would have adjudicated them one by one, but with the lopsided pro-union vote among the 106 ballots that were counted, even if all the challenged ballots were “no” votes, the union would still have had majority support.

Union support was stronger among legislative aides who work for Democrats, but the union had support from some Republican aides as well. Democrats hold 55 of the 90 legislative seats—61%. Of aides whose ballots were counted, 71% voted for the union. Just over 75% of the 180 aides cast ballots.

Staffers chose IBEW Local 89 in part because it’s a nonpartisan  union that doesn’t operate a political action committee or have any agenda at the Legislature.

Ruiz said the things that motivated support for the union aren’t partisan issues. Workers expect that a union will give them a say in setting rules and expectations, safety protections, basic rights when it comes to discipline, and more of a say in compensation.

“This is a big win for all workers,” Ruiz said after the vote result was announced. “It really goes to show that unions aren’t just for one particular class of workers. All workers deserve to have a voice in the workplace and a say in their working conditions, no matter what that their job function.”

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