The staff at eight offices in the House of Representatives took the first steps toward organizing a union that would permit them to take part in collective bargaining.
All the staffers work for Democrats, including Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Andy Levin of Michigan, Ro Khanna of California, Jesus “Chuy” Garia of Illinois, Cori Bush of Missouri, Ted Lieu of California and Melanie Stansbury of New Mexico. On July 18, the staffers filed a petition for representation with the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights.
“July 18 will go down as a historic day for congressional staff and our democracy—marking the day our protected rights to organize and bargain collectively go into full effect,” the Congressional Workers Union said in a statement. “After several months of organizing to establish these protections for House staff, we join 85 congressional workers in taking the next step in our organizing drive by filing for a union election in 8 offices in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
The organization said House staffers are subject to “unsafe working conditions, unlivable wages, and vast inequity” in the workplace that prevent them from “properly representing the communities and needs of the American people.”
“Having a seat at the bargaining table through a union will ensure we have a voice in decisions that impact our workplace,” said the CWU.
The House passed the Congressional Accountability Act in 1995 which removed policies that granted exceptions to federal statutes including some labor laws that had prevented staffers from launching the unionizing effort. However, the policy still needed the House and Senate to approve regulations from what is now known as the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights to fully authorize staffers’ right to unionize.
In February of 2022, Representative Levin introduced a resolution to formally grant staffers the right to unionize. Support for the unionizing effort was largely divided among party lines.
In a comment to The Hill, New York Representative Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking Republican in the House, said Republicans “do not support unionizing on the Hill.”
The bill was passed by the House in May of 2022.
“After 26 years, the House has finally provided its workers the fundamental human right to form a union without fear of retaliation,” Levin said following the bill’s passage, per Fox News. “As someone who has spent decades in the labor movement and devoted their life to protecting and enhancing workers’ rights, this moment stands out as a major highlight.”
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi celebrated the passage of Levin’s resolution as one of “two important new reforms” that would “strengthen workplace rights for [House] staff, while improving our ability to retain and recruit the next generation of public servants.”
The second resolution was an increase of the minimum salary for staff, which Pelosi raised to $45,000 effective Sept. 1, 2022.
“With a competitive minimum salary, the House will better be able to retain and recruit excellent, diverse talent,” Pelosi said in her May 6 statement. “Doing so will open the doors to public service for those who may not have been able to afford to do so in the past. This is also an issue of fairness, as many of the youngest staffers working the longest hours often earn the lowest salaries.”
Levin’s office released a statement commending the CWU for its effort to form a House staffer union.
“As a former union organizer and someone who spent decades in the labor movement, I know how important it is to keep the spotlight focused on the people today is truly about: the workers,” Levin said. “It is the workers who ensure that this institution—the bedrock of our fragile and precious democracy—operates efficiently and serves the American people here in the Capitol and in every corner of our nation.”
There are more than 9,000 staff members working for members of the House.