Spilka: Senate sees no way forward for union of legislative staff

Legislative staff waited about four months to find out if Senate Speaker Karen Spilka would recognize her organizing efforts with IBEW Local 2222, and on Thursday Spilka appeared to close the door on that possibility — with an invitation to staff to attend a Senate counsel briefing on Friday.

The senators were locked in a lengthy private caucus on Thursday afternoon in the Senate Reading Room, and State Senator Michael Moore posted a photo on Twitter of himself, State Senator John Keenan and State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz — supporters of the union push — in the reading room wearing State House Employee Union/Local 2222 pins.

“Employees deserve to have a voice in their workplace, and we will continue to fight until every worker has that opportunity – including right here at State House,” Moore wrote alongside the photo. .

Spilka addressed senators and staff in a 5:34 p.m. email, saying “the Senate does not see a way forward at this time” for unionizing legislative staff after “a comprehensive review” of “this area.” complex legal system”.

“With the information [Counsel] provided to senators today, the Senate does not at this time see the way forward for a traditional employer-union relationship in the Senate as we are currently structured,” Spilka wrote in the email, which was obtained by the News Service.

Spilka added in his email: “I remain committed to making the Senate a great place to serve the people of the Commonwealth while building a career. We will continue our efforts to improve working conditions, benefits and wages, and we will incorporate staff feedback as we have throughout my tenure.”

Pro Tempore Chairman Will Brownsberger told the News Service Thursday night that Massachusetts’ legislative staff structure — where “staff members work hand-in-hand with their senators” — operates on “a completely different model” than in states. like Oregon where the staff has unionized.

“In this legislature, we have Senate offices where Senate staff work for individual senators and they work in small teams. The places where unionization might make structural sense are where staff are remote into a separate organization” , said the Belmont Democrat. , referring to a model where aides exist in a “centralized staff structure” akin to a separate agency, as opposed to working for individual legislators.

“So this kind of thing is just a different model,” he said. “…No one is really considering going to a structure like that.”

Brownsberger confirmed that although several topics were discussed during Thursday’s caucus, the union issue was the longest topic of conversation.

Asked if the senators were asked about their feelings about union recognition before the decision was announced, Brownsberger said, “I think anyone hears – and most senators have heard this presentation of lawyers – understands that a traditional union model does not make sense in the context of Massachusetts’ legislative structure.”

Brownsberger also expressed conflict of interest concerns associated with the legislative staff’s alliance with a particular union that might have business before the branches or lobby on political issues.

He said legislative staff would be “regularly [subject] to conflicts of interest if they were allied or organized under the auspices of a trade union”.

The State House Employee Union group reversed the Senate leadership in a statement late Thursday and said organizers plan to meet with staff over the next few days “to plan next steps.”

“On Beacon Hill, review by Senate counsel is not the final law of the land, and all 40 senators are responsible for making laws,” the statement said. “The Senate leadership is rejecting our union not because of legality, it’s because of will.”

The union push inside the State House has angered the Legislature, where ruling Democrats often voice support for employees’ ability to join unions and bargain collectively on pay and benefits.

Senators Mike Rush and Brendan Crighton, chairman and deputy chairman of the Senate Personnel and Administration Committee, unveiled a plan in June that would see all Senate staff see their pay increases by at least 10% here at the end of July.

The union push dates back to March 31, when IBEW representatives delivered a letter to Spilka’s office asking for voluntary recognition.

On June 29, frustrated aides gathered on the steps of the State House, stepping up their call for a response from the President of the Senate.

At that time, about 30% of senators publicly supported the union effort: State Senators Sonia Chang-Diaz, Diana DiZoglio, Jamie Eldridge, Paul Feeney, Anne Gobi, Adam Hinds, Pat Jehlen, John Keenan, Eric Lesser, Michael Moore, Patrick O’Connor, Becca Rausch and Walter Timilty.

In his email, Spilka invited his aides to hear Senate counsel “discuss their review” Friday at 3 p.m. in the Reading Room.

“Any staff wishing to learn more should plan to attend this meeting in person,” the president wrote.

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