Freedom Foundation

Freedom Foundation urges Oregon AG, legislative leaders to uphold the law

In a letter sent to Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and several legislative officials last Friday, the Freedom Foundation called on the state’s leaders to stand firm in choosing the Oregon State Constitution over union special interests — something that should be an easy task, considering they’d made that very choice just a month ago.

If they don’t, the letter promises, the Freedom Foundation will do it for them.

The issue at hand? Whether employees of the Legislative branch — specifically, the staff assistants who work for individual state legislators — can be unionized under Oregon law.

In recent months, those staffers have been the target of a unionization push by the Washington-based International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 89. And although IBEW filed for certification with the Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB) back in December, it soon became clear the effort was riddled with errors.

Most notably, it came up against the separation of powers doctrine of the Oregon Constitution, which separates the government into the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches and provides that “no person charged with official duties under one of these branches shall exercise any of the functions of another…”

That’s a problem for IBEW’s petition, which asks the ERB — an administrative arm of the Executive branch — to order a completely different branch of government (the Legislative) to recognize and bargain with a labor union.

Fortunately, Rosenblum’s Department of Justice (DOJ) quickly recognized the problem and, on Dec. 29, filed legal objections with the ERB on behalf of legislative officials.

Along with challenging the constitutionality of the union’s petition, the DOJ cited numerous logistical problems with the proposed “bargaining unit” — including how it was defined and the number of employees who had supposedly signed union authorization cards — and pointed out that the state’s collective bargaining statutes also do not allow for union representation within the Legislative branch.

In evident response to the DOJ’s objections, IBEW withdrew its petition and promptly re-filed an amended petition with a revised description of the bargaining unit. Problem solved, right?

Far from it. As the Freedom Foundation explained in its letter to Rosenblum and Co., not only did IBEW’s amended petition do very little to resolve the DOJ’s objections regarding the proposed bargaining unit, but, more importantly, because those objections were automatically dropped when IBEW withdrew its original petition, the broader questions of constitutionality and legality have yet to be answered.

State law gives the DOJ and legislative officials until Feb. 4 to re-file their legal objections in response to IBEW’s new petition. And while there doesn’t appear to be any valid reason why they wouldn’t — after all, they did the first time, and nothing has changed — the Freedom Foundation is ready and willing to step in if they don’t.