Massachusetts Senate staffers, joined by union leaders from around the state, pressed lawmakers Wednesday to support their unionization effort in the face of a state law that excludes them from the list of public employees who can collectively bargain.
Speaking from the steps of the State House, around 50 employees and allies called on Senate President Karen Spilka to recognize and pledge her support for the union, marking nearly three months since staffers first declared their intent to unionize as a part of IBEW Local 2222.
The roughly 200 members of legislative staff who would be covered by a new union perform much of the behind-the-scenes work in one part of the State House. Staffers said they selected IBEW Local 2222 to represent them in part because the union doesn’t lobby in state politics as actively as other unions do.
If the staffers successfully organize — and they face major legal hurdles in doing so — they would be the second group of State House staff in the country, following Oregon, to form a union. Several other states’ legislative employees are also pressing lawmakers to recognize their union efforts.
The State House rally comes a week after the Senate announced a new pay structure for staff, which included a one-time 10 percent raise for their staff and a $50,000 salary floor, and several months after a salary study commissioned by the Senate found fault with the chamber’s hiring and pay practices.
Steve Tolman, the president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO said at the event his organization stands with State House employees to “secure a voice in the workplace and a seat at the table,” commending the pay increase but angling for more.
“We are heartened to see the Senate commit to a plan to lift up wages for its workers,” Tolman said. “But sisters and brothers, there’s more work to be done.”
Senate staff pay has become a central principle of the staff’s unionization effort. They also hope to address healthcare coverage, cost of living increases, diverse hiring and staff retention, and a commitment to a workplace free from discrimination and harassment.
A spokesperson for Spilka’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“It has become painfully clear that I can’t afford this job,” legislative aide Emily Kibbe said at the event. “I love my job, but paying for contact lenses shouldn’t force me to reevaluate whether my employment is still feasible.”
Lawmakers are set to break from the formal legislature sessions at the end of July, and union organizers are hoping to be recognized before then.
Tara Wilson, a Senate staffer who spoke at the event, said she is optimistic they will formalize the union before legislative recess. She added that the Senate president is a “receptive audience” and that staffers would “take any path” to address workers’ concerns, when asked about how they will get around the legal roadblocks standing in the way of their collective bargaining.
Several current and aspiring lawmakers made an appearance too, including Senators Jamie Eldridge and Diana DiZoglio and Representative candidate Raul Fernandez.