Soapbox

California legislators expect companies to let workers join a union. So why not their own staff?

The dome of the state Capitol glows in the early evening in Sacramento.
The dome of the state Capitol glows in the early evening in Sacramento. AP file

When I first came to the Legislature in 2013, one of the first things I was told was that my staff didn’t work for me, they worked for the Rules Committee. If I wanted to hire, promote or fire any employee, or give them a raise, I needed to go through Rules.

There were policies and guidelines to follow, except when they didn’t matter. Many California labor laws don’t apply to legislative employees. But as a former labor leader and union organizer, I was worried. It is hard to be a good boss when there are no clear rules and no clear structure. And it’s even more frustrating and confusing for the thousands of staff members at the Legislature.

Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher new.jpg
Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher

Then the #MeToo movement hit the Capitol and we saw how selective discipline, retaliation and the fear of retaliation have contributed to a workplace that doesn’t protect employees. I’ve watched as leadership in both houses have tackled many of these issues, but I still think our workers deserve more – a real voice on working conditions and in developing protocols for reporting sexual harassment, a right to clearly address pay inequality, the ability to take on bullying.

A career in public service and organized labor has shown me that the only way that truly happens is when workers join a union. So after speaking with current and former staff, I introduced Assembly Bill 2048 which finally gives legislative employees the right to form a union.

Opinion

The bill – which is to be heard Wednesday by the Assembly’s Committee on Public Employment, Retirement and Social Security – leaves the decision of joining a union to workers, where it belongs. They could organize themselves into one or multiple unions, given that different job classifications could be better served by separate bargaining units, without fear of employer intimidation.

Bottom line, AB 2048 extends to legislative staff the same thing we expect private companies to provide their employees: the choice of whether they want to form and a join union.

Nearly every other employee in California has the right to organize into a union. It makes no sense that we withhold this from our own legislative employees. Many of my colleagues have benefited from their union membership. They understand the union advantage when it comes to protecting clear workplace standards, pay equity, fairness and a voice on the job. And a majority of my colleagues who haven’t personally benefited from a union have expressed their support for all workers having the basic right to collective bargaining.

It’s time to extend that right to our own workers.

Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, a San Diego Democrat, represents the 80th Assembly District and can be contacted at Assemblymember.Gonzalez@assembly.ca.gov.
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