Republican legislative staff move first to unionize under new WA law

May 1 marked the first day employees of Washington’s Legislature could petition to form unions and collectively bargain.

 


Employees of the Washington Legislature could start pursuing union representation Wednesday and two groups of workers did. Both are Republican. Legislative assistants for GOP members of the state House and Senate want the recently formed Legislative Professionals Association to represent them. Petitions on behalf of workers in each chamber were filed with the Public Employment Relations Commission, which will certify the bargaining unit and conduct an election. More than 60% of the House and Senate assistants signed cards showing interest, said Jami Lund, association president and legislative assistant for Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview. As of Wednesday, there were 39 House assistants and 21 Senate.

Lund acknowledged the irony of Republican employees emerging as the first to take advantage of a labor law most of their bosses opposed.

Legislative assistants want to ensure their concerns are heard in a workplace where they are in the minority, Lund said. The workers don’t want to risk living with a contract they disagree with and have no say in negotiating. Nor do they want to be pulled into a union and see their dues funneled outside the state to a national group. “It really is a defensive effort,” said Lund, a longtime staffer and former education policy analyst with the Freedom Foundation. “We don’t want to yield to somebody else capturing our voice. The only way to prevent that is to get your own voice at the bargaining table.” Sen. Derek Stanford, D-Bothell, who helped craft many details of the collective bargaining law, didn’t find the action surprising.

“I welcome workers making their voices heard. That’s what it’s about,” he said. “We know that when workers’ voices are heard through shared decision-making, it improves morale, performance, and everything about the workplace.” “Most expansive law in the nation” A 2022 law laid the foundation for employees of the House, Senate and legislative agencies to pursue collective bargaining. Washington has now joined Oregon, Maine and a handful of other states offering legislative employees the opportunity to unionize. Washington’s law set May 1 as the date to begin the petition process. If a union vote is successful, those workers can begin bargaining on July 1, the same date as other state employee unions. Any completed agreements would take effect on July 1, 2025. This past session, lawmakers passed Stanford’s legislation filling in details such as which workers are eligible to unionize and what topics can and cannot be collectively bargained. “With this law, we will have the most expansive collective bargaining law for any Legislature in the country,” House Majority Leader Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, said during the session. Full-time partisan employees in the state House and Senate – which include staff of lawmakers and the Democratic and Republican caucuses – plus any additional partisan staff hired each session, are eligible to be in a union. However, House and Senate employees cannot be in the same bargaining unit. Employees of the Democratic and Republican caucuses in each chamber must keep separate as well unless a majority of each caucus votes to be in the same unit. Similar rules apply for legislative assistants. Employees of the House and Senate administration are able to unionize. So too are non-managerial workers in Legislative Support Services, Legislative Service Center and Office of the Code Reviser, who do not work full-time on drafting and finalizing legislation. But employees of those three agencies cannot form units together or with House or Senate employee units. When bargaining begins, several subjects are off-limits to negotiate, such as the length of the work day during a legislative session, as well as in the 60 calendar days before a session and the 20 days afterward. And the law specifically bars legislative employees from striking, participating in work stoppages, or refusing to perform job duties.

“Kind of curious” On Tuesday afternoon, Michael Sellars, executive director of the Public Employment Relations Commission, said he hadn’t heard of any active union organizing campaign though it didn’t mean it wasn’t happening. He refrained from predicting what might happen in the first few weeks. “There’s no deadline on when to petition for a unit. We’ll deal with each petition when it comes in,” he said. “We’re all kind of curious what unions will be interested in this.”

 

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