For the first time in state history, the California State Legislature has given its approval of legislation by Assemblymember Tina McKinnor (D – Inglewood) to give non-supervisorial legislative employees the choice to join a union. AB 1 (McKinnor)’s final 61 to 5 vote by the State Assembly follows the State Senate’s 30 to 3 approval of the measure on Tuesday, would give these employees the choice to form a union and collectively bargain for wages, benefits and working conditions, regardless of political affiliation.
“Legislative staff aren’t looking for special treatment – they are looking for the same dignity and respect afforded to all represented workers,” said Assemblymember McKinnor. “To the staff in our district offices and Capitol offices – including our dedicated committee staff – that honorably serve the people of the State of California everyday – know this – we see you and we respect you. And with AB 1, we are taking action to make sure that current and future legislative staff, regardless of their Member’s political affiliation, are afforded a safe, equitable and fair opportunity to build a noble career in public service.”
McKinnor, a former legislative employee herself was an original signer of the We Said Enough letter in 2017, which sparked the Me Too movement to address workplace sexual harassment, retaliation and intimidation within the California Legislature. AB 1 builds upon that work to give legislative staff greater say to create a safe, diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace.
“I have tears, this is like having my baby,” McKinnor said shortly to the Sacramento Bee after the vote on Tuesday. “When I thought about running, I thought, ‘I’m running for this. When I get here, I’m going to carry this bill. I’m going to make sure that I clean up for staff.’ And I’m so excited that we’ve gotten this far.”
While the state Legislature commonly considers laws affecting public and private employees in California, the Legislature itself remains the only branch of state government that does not allow their employees to have the choice to unionize. Legislative staff serve as at-will employees that are exempt from state civil service laws and denied the right to collectively bargain for wages, benefits and working conditions. This has led to generations of legislative employees being subject to low and inequitable pay and subject to hostile work environments with no recourse other than being forced to seek employment outside of the Legislature.
Under AB 1, the Senate Rules Committee, the Assembly Rules Committee or the Joint Legislative Rules Committee (the administrative offices of the Legislature) would establish procedures to implement the collective bargaining process with the employees’ chosen union. Wages and benefits would be negotiated within the budgetary restrictions approved by voters through Proposition 140.