By JOE KENDO
The 2018 legislative session provided an opportunity for public sector workers to move legislation that has long stagnated due to intransigence from Senate Republicans. With a pro-worker majority, including new committee chairs, now leading the Senate, legislation supporting public workers and their unions finally made it to the governor’s desk.
In preparation for a U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Janus v. AFSCME public sector “right-to-work” case, state employees, nurses, fire fighters, city and county workers, police officers, spoken language interpreters, port employees, and teachers linked arms to harden their bargaining rights against this attack. Legislation passed due to the hard work of these groups will help keep unions strong in a post-Janus environment (HB 2751 sponsored by Rep. Monica Stonier), guarantee new employees access to union orientations so that they understand their rights (SB 6229 by Sen. Kevin Van de Wege), and will expand access to collective bargaining rights to part-time workers (HB 2669 by Sen. Beth Doglio), certain port employees (SB 6230 by Sen. Steve Conway), and spoken language interpreters (SB 6245 by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña).
Further, as a follow-up to the important work accomplished during the 2017 session to comply with the McCleary decision, legislators included the necessary funds in their 2018 supplemental budget to get educator compensation back on track. Training requirements for Paraeducators (SB 6388 by Sen. Mark Mullet) were clarified, and state unemployment insurance for educators was brought in to conformity with new Federal rules (HB 2703 by Rep. Mike Sells) to better protect school employees when future work is not guaranteed.
Finally, and significantly, after many years of hard work and organizing, workers who provide nursing care to patients in state mental health hospitals and prisons will finally be allowed membership in the Public Safety Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) with the passage of HB 1558 (Rep. Christine Kilduff). Previously available only to non-commissioned law enforcement employees, like correctional officers, now workers with similarly physically jobs will be able to retire a little early without penalty.
Demonstrating the power of standing together, across the state, across unions, and across job sites, public workers achieved significant wins this session. All of these bills will go a long way toward improving the lives of public workers, while also building strength for future efforts, like protecting public workers from invasions of privacy through frivolous public disclosure requests, and limiting wasteful outsourcing of public work.