As of Friday, May 28, Oregon Capitol Legislative employees joined the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 89, making them the first legislative employees in the nation to unionize. As a result of this unionization, Oregon Capitol aides will have more input into how the building runs.
Despite its name, IBEW Local 89 represents a variety of industries in the Pacific Northwest including clerical workers.
Although this move was popular, passing with a 75-31 vote among staff members, it is not without its detractors. One is Department of Justice lawyer Tessa Sugahara, who according to Oregon Public Broadcasting’s coverage of the vote, said that an employee union is “fundamentally incompatible” with the work lawmakers do.
Among Sugahara’s objections was that it was “unclear” who would bargain with employees on behalf of the Legislature, as the government generally stands as mediator in disputes. However proponents argue that a proposed bill, Senate Bill 758, can resolve that issue.
Another issue with the union was that some employees hold managerial roles or have “confidential” duties which might disqualify them from joining. This caused 30 votes to not be counted. Two other votes were not counted due to missing signatures.
The IBEW Local 89 intentionally avoids taking an active role in state politics, although it is a member of a Democratic leaning federation of labor unions. For many supporters of the legislative employees’ unionization, including IBEW Local 89 organizer Tony Ruiz, the goal is to improve communication and amplify employees’ voices.
Representatives of both Oregon’s Senate and House of Representatives spoke in favor of the legislative aides’ unionization after the decision was announced on Friday.