Union bill dies, WA legislative staffers stage sick-out

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Scores of Democratic staffers in the Washington Legislature staged a “sick-out” Wednesday after a bill that would have allowed them to unionize failed to advance.

KUOW reports the work stoppage put majority Democrats in the Legislature — who are usually defenders of unions — in the awkward position of having to explain why they weren’t allowing their own employees to form a union.

“Any kind of collective bargaining bill that we ever have tends to be very complex and every worksite is very complex, so you have to make sure that you’re working out the details so that it will really work,” Speaker of the House Laurie Jinkins said during a media availability Wednesday.

Jinkins said she was confident that with some additional revisions the bill could pass the Legislature next year.

She also said she supported the right of employees to stage a protest, noting it was one of the few legal ways for them to express their feelings. By law, legislative staffers are not allowed to lobby for or against legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig also expressed support for the idea of legislative staff unionizing and for their silent protest Wednesday.

“I understand their concern, I’m supportive of the solution. I support their action today,” Billig said.

An estimated 80 to 100 or more Democratic staffers, including legislative assistants who work directly for state lawmakers, participated in the work stoppage.

The bill, HB 1806, would have authorized legislative branch employees to collectively bargain over issues including wages, work hours and conditions of employment.

The measure passed out of two committees, but never made it to the floor of the House for a vote before a key deadline on Tuesday.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), nonpartisan legislative staff in Maine have long worked under collective bargaining agreements. In addition, NCSL said at least some legislative staff in New York, Rhode Island and Vermont have union rights.