You'd think if there's one branch of government well-versed in the rules of fair play, it would be the Oregon Judicial Department, the black-robed division of our beloved state government.

Not according to the union that's trying to organize the 1,300 or so employees who assist our state judges. The Service Employees International Union has slapped court administrators with a series of complaints to the state Employment Relations Board. And even though the cases haven't been decided yet, they do not look good.

Court employees are the largest non-unionized bloc of state workers in Oregon. Those who favor the union say the department's grievance, discipline and on-the-job rules aren't clear. They may have a point--several of the spats between organizers and management come down to whether, when and how it's OK to have an office chat or send an email.

One complaint alleges that managers ordered staffers not to discuss the union drive at a biweekly staff meeting--even though other "non-work" topics are fair game at the meeting. Another claims that Coos County supervisors cracked down on casual office chatter about the union. Finally, the union claims managers violated employees' rights after State Court Administrator Kingsley Click emailed employees a memo addressing technical issues of the union drive. Click's email sparked heated email replies. Department managers say that's not OK--that state rules forbid "personal lobbying" on its internal email system.

"They're selectively prohibiting activities," says SEIU activist Lisa Siegel. "If people are allowed to use email or have conversations to say they have Girl Scout cookies or they're selling Avon products, why can't they do the same regarding a union meeting?"

The OJD isn't commenting on the pending complaints. Meanwhile, workers are likely to vote on whether they want a union in late April or early May--at which time the department's curious campaign strategy may come back to haunt it.