Freedom Foundation

Oregon Democrats seek to pave way for unconstitutional legislative union

The fundamental problem with government unions has never been more obviously on display than it is in SB 759, a bill recently introduced by Democrats in the Oregon State Legislature to make it easier for their own employees to unionize.

Specifically, the bill seeks to remove one of the legal roadblocks currently preventing the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 89 from organizing the nation’s first and only legislative union after the effort was blocked earlier this year by — ironically enough — the Legislature itself.

Although the legality of a legislative union is still under review by the state’s Employment Relations Board (ERB), Democrats didn’t waste any time conceiving of the workaround and scheduling it for a public hearing earlier this week.

At the hearing, Sen. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland), a former community college faculty union president, told the committee that SB 759 was necessary to “level the playing field and give (legislative assistants) the fair shot they deserve.”

However, he apparently forgot that if any employees haven’t gotten a fair shot, he has only himself and his colleagues to blame. After all, the ability to change compensation and working conditions for legislative assistants has always been within the purview of the Legislature – specifically, the Legislative Administration Committee, which is controlled by his own Democratic party.

There’s no reason they couldn’t increase pay and benefits on their own.

But while Dembrow and the bill’s other chief sponsors, Sen. Chris Gorsek (D-Troutdale) and Rep. Marty Wilde (D-Eugene), characterized the bill as largely a “technical clarification” to the state’s collective bargaining laws, they made no mention of the fact that SB 759 was introduced as a direct response to IBEW’s recent campaign.

Fortunately, the Freedom Foundation was there to remind them — and to provide testimony pointing out the wealth of other legal problems SB 759 will do nothing to fix, including the likelihood that unionizing the legislative branch would violate the separation of powers clause in the Oregon Constitution.

Strictly speaking, it shouldn’t even have been necessary, since lawmakers have made it clear they’re familiar with the arguments Oregon’s Department of Justice (DOJ) has made on their behalf. But in their haste to clear the way for IBEW’s campaign, it appears they didn’t take very seriously the conflict of interest a bill like SB 759 would create.

At the end of the day, it’s problematic enough that public officials often bargain with the very unions that help get them elected. It’s an even bigger problem when political leaders want to bargain with the very employees who help them shape public policy.