Senators take a vote on whether Delaware should join popular vote movement

Legislative Hall in Dover, Delaware

Calling it a first of its kind move in the country, state legislative staffers are seeking to unionize.

On the first day of the legislative session, Tuesday, January 14, 2020, employees announced their intent to unionize on Twitter with AFSCME Council 81 and asked for "voluntary recognition" by General Assembly leadership.

In a written statement, the employees noted they work "tirelessly" every day and on nights and weekends for the people of the First State. 

"Moving forward, we know that a union will help us do a better job of retaining talent, providing basic worker protections, and delivering results for the people of Delaware," the unnamed employees said in a statement. 

Hours later, Senate Minority Leader Gerald Hocker and State House Minority Leader Danny Short, said no staff member of their respective caucuses had previously contacted them regarding the possibility of unionization, and they only became aware of the proposed action today.  

"We recognize the right of our employees to collectively organize," said Short and Hocker in an email. [But] there are still many questions which need to be answered regarding this proposal."

The Delaware Senate Democratic Caucus also weighed in:  

“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.”

The House issued a similar statement.

"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," said House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf.

AFSCME Council 81 executive director Mike Begatto told WDEL legislative staffers approached his organization about unionizing--not the other way around. 

"The legislative aides in Dover came to us, and said 'we would like to organize, what is that we would have to do?'" he explained. "This the first time that individuals work in those positions felt it was their right, and they wanted to join and codify what their working conditions are...they're not dissatisfied with anything, they just want to codify the working conditions for themselves and for future people coming down the road."

He said joining a union isn't about trying to gain leverage.

"We go to the table, as equals, to determine what the working conditions are--that's not leverage--I don't have any more leverage than the employer has leverage," said Begatto. 

The employees' decision must still be approved by the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB).  

"[If approved] everybody's eligible in the future, as long as you're not a supervisor; if you have the right to hire and fire, you don't have the right to join a union," said Begatto.