Is It Finally Time To Allow California Legislative Staff To Unionize?

Jan 8, 2018

United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez (left) embraces Asm. Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) after the Assembly approved her AB 1066 on Monday, Aug. 29, 2016.

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

The latest proposal from a California lawmaker in response to the #MeToo and We Said Enough movements strikes at one of the Legislature's most sacred cows: the “at-will” employment of its staff.

In fact, Asm. Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher wants to give the Legislature’s more than 2,000 employees the right to unionize.

Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) says the California Legislature is a workplace like no other.

“This is the strangest employment situation that I’ve been in,“ she says. “Oh my gosh, I can’t imagine if the Capitol is the only place you’ve worked, and then you go out in the real world and try to understand — but this is weird!”

Legislative employees are “at-will:” no job protection. And that’s drawn particular scrutiny in recent months amid allegations of pervasive sexual harassment in and around the state Capitol.

Gonzalez Fletcher says a closely watched bill to give legislative staff whistleblower protections misses the bigger picture:

“Whistleblower protections can’t protect people who are at-will employees,“ she says. “I mean, it can help – you can’t be fired for whistleblowing, but you can come into work and be fired for wearing yellow.”

Gonzalez Fletcher’s bill would only allow legislative staff to unionize – not require them to do so.

Previous efforts to unionize legislative employees have been rare – and almost never advanced to even a committee hearing. But Gonzalez Fletcher says she hopes the sexual harassment allegations at the state Capitol will give it a chance of success.