‘I want to continue this work’: Senate staffers hope leaders will voluntarily recognize their union as legislative session draws to a close

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For Shelly MacNeill, a 25-year-old State House staffer who works as Senator Michael Moore’s chief of staff, it hasn’t always been easy juggling a demanding low-wage job while raising three kids with a husband. self employed.

MacNeill is among a group of Massachusetts Senate staffers who are calling on the branch’s Democratic leadership to voluntarily recognize their union. MacNeill and other State House workers say staffers have long struggled to make ends meet financially while working in a high-stress environment.

“Over the past two years, we have worked tirelessly to do what we could to ease the burden on voters, while addressing these same issues in our own households,” MacNeill said Wednesday at a press conference outside the State House. “Many had to buy their own computers to do their jobs, staff had to rely on each other in ways we hadn’t had to before.”

It has been three months since IBEW Local 2222 delivered a letter from the Massachusetts State Home Employees Union to the office of Senate Speaker Karen Spilka, requesting voluntary recognition, to meet with representatives of IBEW and provide a list of staff to union organizers.

But since then, Spilka’s office has remained largely silent on the unionization push. Meanwhile, several senators have publicly pledged their support for the union, including some who attended a press conference outside the State House on Wednesday morning like Sens. Dianna DiZoglio, John Keenan and Jamie Eldridge.

And with the Legislative Assembly entering its final month of session, Senate staffers are hoping to convince leaders to meet with them and IBEW 2022 officials. Tara Wilson, legislative director to Senator Susan Moran, said that she had been “shocked” at how little voice staff members have in their workplace.

“I want to continue this work, but I know there has to be a change,” Wilson said. “I signed a union card because a unionized Senate will give staff dignity and respect in our workplace, and the opportunity to negotiate the changes we need to improve the quality of our work and reduce the cost to the taxpayer of high staff turnover.

A spokesperson for Spilka’s office did not immediately respond Wednesday morning to a request for comment from MassLive.

In the months following the official launch of the Senate Employees’ Union, Senate leadership decided to increase the employees’ base salary and offer health insurance during the first month of employment, a provision that is being negotiated as part of the state’s fiscal year 2023 budget.

In a highly unusual all-staff meeting last week, Massachusetts Senate staffers learned of their universal pay raises — forging a welcome, but frustrating announcement that rocked an already demoralized workforce.

All employees will see their pay rise by at least 10% in July, as Spilka’s office responded to gaping pay inequalities detailed in the November 2021 report from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

He found that the Senate lacked clear classification and compensation structures, with salaries not reflecting employee qualifications, including advanced degrees and years of work experience at the Massachusetts State House. Employees, in turn, struggle to make ends meet as they deal with inflation and the rising cost of living in Greater Boston.

Mark Martinez, a former Senate staffer who started the advocacy group BeaconBLOC, said staff would always look favorably on a “well-deserved pay raise,” but the move has brought more questions than answers.

“Questions that would be answered if the staff were brought to the table and these actions were taken in conjunction with the people involved,” Martinez said at the press conference.

A longtime Senate worker, who decided to quit her job soon out of frustration at what she described as a ‘toxic’ work environment, has privately warned against calling pay adjustments salary increases.

“It’s an increase, but it’s an increase to correct an inequity. It’s not a merit-based thing,” the staffer told MassLive last week. “They fix one problem and fix one problem to a bare minimum, because there are so many other [issues]. It’s ridiculous.”

Throwing money at staff members is not a solution, the staff member said.

Spilka spoke briefly at the recent all-staff meeting, which had an all-virtual format on Microsoft Teams. In contrast, earlier the same day, senators were briefed on the salary adjustment during a hybrid caucus, with options for virtual and in-person participation.

At the staff meeting, the senses. Michael Rush and Sen. Brendan Crighton mostly read verbatim from a slide deck, MassLive said. Microphones and cameras were disabled for Senate staffers, who were instructed to type their questions into the chat – which would be answered outside of the meeting.

In a familiar concern, staff members say the announcement lacked transparency and accountability. It also took on an anti-union tone, they say, as Spilka refused for months to voluntarily acknowledge their willingness to collective bargaining.

“[The] the presentation was clearly trying to put up a barrier between the staff and the leadership of the Senate — it was clearly trying to protect the leadership,” a staffer told MassLive. “It wasn’t just a conversation about salaries. It was like a dog and pony show.

The new Senate salary floor is $50,138, Spilka’s office said. Some staff members can expect their salaries to increase by well over 10%.

For example, a legislative director with a bachelor’s degree and one year of relevant experience who currently earns $57,240 will soon earn $71,639, a 25% increase, according to a copy of the slideshow shared with MassLive.

But staffers told MassLive they don’t know how pending and future pay increases will be calculated. The process of managing pay negotiations – and ensuring that wages are truly fair for employees from marginalized backgrounds – is also an open question.

The presentation marked a “huge victory” for Spilka, a longtime staffer told MassLive.

“I don’t think it should be treated as this incredible and memorable gift,” the staffer said. “It’s something we should have had years and years and years ago. I found the way it was presented to be disrespectful to the staff – cameras off, mics off.

Spilka spokeswoman Sarah Blodgett said Friday that the format of the meeting reflected “the large number of employees we expected to attend.”

“We thought that was the most efficient way to deliver all of this information at once,” Blodgett told MassLive. “Senators were briefed on the plan earlier today, in the hope that they could answer questions from staff. In addition, participants were able to ask questions in the chat, and we will soon be posting an FAQ.

The Senate’s unionization push is based on compensation issues, but it also encompasses concerns about high attrition rates, as well as the lack of consistent onboarding, an independent human resources department, and protections against workplace violence. work related to sexual assault and harassment.

“Yes, we’ve had a win now. Yes, we’ve definitely moved the ball here, but there needs to be an ongoing mechanism to give feedback,” one staff member said of the union. a pro-worker state, so why aren’t we recognized yet?”

Spilka called herself a champion of organized labor. Although she met with staff to discuss their concerns this spring, representatives from IBEW Local 2222 were not included in that conversation.

When asked if the Ashland Democrat would voluntarily recognize the Massachusetts State House Employee Union, Blodgett told MassLive MassLive, “I can’t answer that right now.”

But staff members remain disgruntled and willing to keep their union organizing drive going until the next legislative session, MassLive said. The arcane state law makes it difficult to determine whether Senate employees can unionize.

Spilka “could always come out and say she’s supportive,” a staffer said. “We’re the building that rules the roost, so why not just make the fix?”

House staff members have also reported that they are seeking to organize a union, although no formal action has been taken.

Emily Kibbe, legislative aide to Rep. Tami Gouviea, a candidate for lieutenant governor, said it became ‘painfully clear’ that she could not afford her job with student loans, bills and the cost of life in Boston on the rise.

“I am constantly worried about my financial situation. Twice in the past four months, regular health care costs have exceeded my monthly budget, forcing me to reevaluate errands and public transportation to get to work,” Kibbe said. “I love my job, but paying for contact lenses shouldn’t force me to re-evaluate if my job is still doable.”

Ravi Simon, legislative aide to Rep. Carmine Gentile, said his Senate colleagues “showed us the way.”

“Let’s be clear, the House is getting organized,” he said.

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