SALEM, Ore. – Yesterday, Oregon became the first state in the country to certify a union of legislative employees — the political staffers who work for elected members of the Oregon State Legislature.
Following an election last month in which the staffers voted 75-31 in favor of unionization, the state Employment Relations Board (ERB) certified the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 89 as the exclusive bargaining representative for all 180 employees for whom they would now get to speak and bargain.
Despite union organizers’ repeated claims of widespread, bipartisan support, the election results reveal IBEW Local 89 ultimately received approval from only 41 percent of the employees it will represent.
More concerning, however, is that the unionization of legislative employees appears to violate the Oregon Constitution — an argument the Legislature itself, among many others, brought forward when IBEW originally sought certification last December.
Specifically, the ERB’s order may run afoul of the Oregon Constitution’s separation of powers clause, which would prohibit an executive branch agency like the ERB from ordering the legislative branch to recognize and bargain with a union.
The Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) dropped its constitutional objections on behalf of the Legislature earlier this year, though it’s unclear whether that decision stemmed from a lack of political will or the fact that the ERB isn’t the proper venue for a constitutional challenge, as the Freedom Foundation argued in a letter sent to Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum.
Either way, the creation of the nation’s first legislative union is fraught with legal and ethical problems.
“Government unions already have an extortionate relationship with the politicians they help put into office,” said Jason Dudash, the Oregon director of the Freedom Foundation. “Now we’re seeing the creation of the most partisan, politically motivated union in American history, by definition. And the fact that Democrats are advancing a bill along party lines to pave its way only further reveals that they’re willing to abandon any semblance of bipartisanship to serve union special interests.”
Regardless of the Legislature’s next move, the Freedom Foundation plans to challenge IBEW’s certification on constitutional grounds and help affected legislative employees seek judicial review of various other aspects of the ERB’s order.
“Employees have every right to form a union within the scope of established collective bargaining laws,” said Jason Dudash. “But not if it comes at the cost of willfully violating the Oregon Constitution. The Freedom Foundation is prepared to challenge the ERB’s order in court, and the state’s attorneys should do the same.”