Legislative staff union raises some important questions

Who is the employer, individual senators or Senate?

I HAVE BEEN following efforts to organize the legislative staff at the State House and I have some concerns. As a former legislator, Chair of Ways and Means and Senate President, the work I was able to accomplish for my constituents and for the Commonwealth was in no small part due to the talented, dedicated and expert staff that served with me.

On more occasions than I can count, we spent nights and weekends around the table, side by side with our sleeves rolled up working on the fine details of a budget or legislation with the common goal of public service. I have always and will continue to value the men and women who answered that call to serve and worked to make a difference.

It is an honor and a privilege to serve the people of the Commonwealth, and the demands and standards placed upon both elected officials and staff are unique. The work of the Legislature, whether it is elected officials or staff, is to represent the people of their district and the Commonwealth and act in the best interest of the public. This core function raises many questions surrounding the issue of unionization.

With respect to a legislative staff union, who would be the official employer? Would unionized staff work for individual senators, the Senate, the Senate president or the entire Legislature? In a similar vein, what happens when a senator retires or is defeated for re-election? Does the senator’s unionized staff leave with them, or is the incoming senator required to keep them? What staff would be classified as management and who would be in the union?

In other states, many legislatures have very different staff structures than Massachusetts, with non-partisan, professional staff serving as the policy-writing arm for the entire body, and no personal office staff. It’s easier to imagine how unionization would work by switching to this kind of a structure, but is that what is best for our Commonwealth?

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These are questions that need to be answered in order to ensure that the business of the people continues and the Legislature’s obligation under the Massachusetts Constitution is fulfilled. It is important for everyone not only to find these answers, but a solution that works for the staff, legislators, and the people of the Commonwealth.

Therese Murray is the former president of the Massachusetts Senate.