State Watch

Washington state legislative staff stage sick-out over labor organizing bill

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Dozens of staffers at the Washington state legislature called out sick on Wednesday to highlight a bill that would allow them to form a labor union to advocate for better working conditions in Olympia.

At least 109 state legislative staffers skipped work on Wednesday, according to Nigel Herbig, a former Democratic legislative staffer who is now the mayor of Kenmore, Wash.

“They’re as organized as they can be without being unionized,” Herbig said in an interview.

Their action comes the day after legislators missed a critical deadline to keep the unionizing bill alive.

Tuesday marked the final day of this year’s legislative session to pass legislation that originated in either the state House or Senate on to the other chamber.

The bill to allow legislative staff to organize, House Bill 1806, passed through two state House committees. A companion bill, Senate Bill 5773, passed one committee but not a second. Neither bill received a floor vote in time to advance to the other chamber, effectively killing their chances of passage this year.

The House measure was sponsored by 40 Democratic members of the 98-member legislature. The Senate version won support from 18 members of the 49-member body. 

Spokespeople for the state House Speaker and Senate Democratic leaders did not immediately respond to request for comment Wednesday afternoon.

The sick-out comes amid a new push to organize legislative staff in Washington, D.C., where the anonymous Instagram account Dear White Staffers has mounted a push to elevate stories of poor working conditions and harsh bosses on Capitol Hill.

The popularity of that account has led to similar accounts in other states, where legislative workers have related their stories of what it’s like to work in state capitals where legislators can be equally demanding.

“It’s an interesting workplace. It’s one of the few places in the state where employees are expressly prohibited from organizing,” Herbig said. “I have never seen a workplace with so much turnover.” 

On Wednesday, the account Dear_Wa_Gov_Staffers posted angry reactions to the death of the unionizing bill.

“I never want to hear dems [sic] wax poetic about labor again. Labor support starts at home,” reads one of the account’s posts, shared, like others, by an anonymous user.

Legislative staffers in at least two other states — Delaware and California — have advocated for the right to organize in recent years. Neither of those bills has advanced.

Tags labor organizing Union Washington

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