Legislative aides seek union

More than half of Leg Hall staffers reach out to AFSCME
January 17, 2020

On the first day of the General Assembly, Legislative Hall staffers dropped a bomb that nobody wants to talk about.

Hours before the session was set to begin Jan. 14, a group identified as Delaware General Assembly Union issued a statement expressing their desire to unionize. No one was identified in the press release, which stated a majority of Democratic, Republican and nonpartisan staff of the House of Representatives and state Senate intend to unionize with the Delaware Public Employees Council 81 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

“This organizing effort aims to create the first fully-inclusive state legislative union that cuts across partisan lines in the history of the United States – a historic step forward for public service workers across the county,” the release states. No names were attached with the statement, which only referred to organizers.

“We love what we do, and we think it is important that the people of Delaware have a strong legislative brach of government working for their needs. This is a historic opportunity for Delaware's General Assembly to set an example, not only for the people of our state, but for legislative branches across the country about how workers can and should be empowered in their workplace,” the release states. “In the coming weeks and months, we look forward to conversations between all parties moving forward swiftly and amicably.”

Michael Begatto, executive director of Delaware AFSCME 81, would not say who contacted his union, only that it was a majority of legislative aides, both Republican and Democrat, and from both the House and the Senate.

“They are looking to codify their working conditions. There are no complaints; it's not like things are bad or anything,” Begatto said. “They want to codify working conditions for themselves and future employees.”

Of the 40-45 legislative aides who work at Legislative Hall, Begatto said, the union received more than 20 cards from employees requesting unionization, and he expects more support by the end of the week.

Once all the cards are in, Begatto said, the union will contact the Public Employee Relations Board, which will verify the cards and set forth procedures for a vote by all legislative aides. An election is required before a union can represent a group, and a majority of legislative aides would have to vote for the union.

Caucus spokespeople on both sides of the aisles declined to talk about the union, releasing statements from their caucuses.

Republicans in both the House and Senate released a joint statement saying no Republican staff was contacted about unionizing.

“Our staffs only became aware of this action today,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Danny Short, R-Seaford, and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, in a statement. “There are still many questions which need to be answered regarding this proposal.”

Senate Republican spokesman David Burris would not comment on the union situation. He said there is no other information at this time. House Democratic spokesman Drew Volturo and Senate Democratic spokesman Scott Goss also offered no personal comment.

Volturo released a statement from Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, which said, “As this is a legal process that must follow the rules of the National Labor Relations Act, we will respect that process and have no comment at this time.”

Senate Democrats said, “The Delaware Senate Democratic Caucus has a lengthy record of supporting the rights of workers to collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions. As a matter of law, this request from our staff must now proceed under the rules of the National Labor Relations Act. Out of respect for that process and the privacy concerns inherent in all personnel matters, we will have no further comment at this time.”