Legislative staffers in Massachusetts are pushing for unionization for a second time.
Last summer, Senate President Karen Spilka refused to recognize the staffers’ unionization attempt. Now, staffers are attempting a legislative change that would permit unionization. State law currently allows executive and judicial branch employees to unionize but excludes legislative staffers.
Sen. John Keenan and Rep. Patrick Kearney filed legislation that would change that.
“All workers including legislative staff deserve the right to bargain collectively to ensure that they can have safe and healthy workplaces, good benefits, and that they can earn livable wages,” Keenan said at a hearing last Wednesday.
In addition to Senator Keenan, several legislative staff members testified in support of the bill last week, along with a number of lawmakers.
Staffers, including former staffer Evan Berry, cited retention issues as a primary motivating factor for unionization efforts. “The House and the Senate have a dire talent retention problem….Massachusetts taxpayers are ultimately paying the price,” said Berry.
He continued, “Anything short of passing this bill is anti-labor, anti-union, anti-taxpayer, and anti-staff.”
Massachusetts is one of several states that has considered legislation to allow staffers to organize, including California which passed similar language earlier this month.
Still, concerns remain over whether unionization will solve or exacerbate issues at the capitol.
“Unionizing staffers in legislative offices creates more problems than it solves,” says Brigette Herbst, senior organizing director for AFFT and a former state legislative staffer. “The long and unpredictable hours during a legislative session don’t mesh with collective bargaining, and how will elected officials handle untrustworthy staffers?”
Herbst also raised concerns about unions’ connection to lobbying.
“Unions lobby heavily at the state level, and if they’re also closely connected to the interests of legislative staff, how will that impact what resources the unions are able to get compared to other groups?”