House Passes Resolution to Establish Congressional Staff Union

May 11, 2022 by Reece Nations
House Passes Resolution to Establish Congressional Staff Union
U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives approved a resolution Tuesday evening that allows its staffers to form a union, granting them the same rights to negotiate with their employers that workers across the country have.

The resolution passed along party lines in a 217-202 vote, without a single “aye” vote from Republicans, in conjunction with a number of other measures. Seven Republicans and three Democrats chose not to vote on the measure’s passage, which does not require passage in the Senate or the president’s signature to take effect.

In contrast to Republicans’ opposition to the unionization effort, the measure was widely popular among Democrats. The resolution, authored by Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., gained 155 original cosponsors prior to clearing the lower chamber.

“For months now, our workers have been organizing in the shadows because they lack the legal protections to come forward,” Levin said in remarks from the House floor on Tuesday. “It should not and does not have to be this way for workers seeking to exercise their First Amendment rights to freedom of association — especially here in the halls of Congress.”

Congressional aides had pressured their bosses to act on the unionization initiative as the labor movement gained momentum throughout the nation. Workers for Starbucks have begun to take part in union activities, and efforts to organize Amazon warehouse workers succeeded in April where they had previously failed, as previously reported by The Well News.

Capitol Hill staffers had quietly voiced frustrations over their working conditions to avoid retaliation from their employers. Until the House vote on Tuesday, congressional staff faced issues such as low pay, long hours and a strenuous work environment without any avenue for remediation.

“Tonight’s vote is a historic moment for thousands of congressional workers who have won basic labor protections to organize and bargain collectively without fear of retaliation,” members of the Congressional Workers Union said in a written statement.

“For 26 years, Congress has had the opportunity to pass this resolution but has failed to act, until our collective demands were too loud for them to ignore. Tonight is a reminder of the power of collective action and what the freedom to form a union truly means — democracy not just in our elections, but in our workplaces too.”

Republicans had sought to remedy staff grievances through a separate proposal that would establish an employee involvement organization for congressional aides rather than a union. Under that proposal, which was produced by Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., staffers cannot enter into collective bargaining agreements and the organization would be dissolvable by employers.

Levin’s resolution approves regulations issued by the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights under the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, extending the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute to congressional workers. On Friday, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sent out a Dear Colleague letter announcing plans to vote on Levin’s measure while boosting the minimum annual pay for staff to $45,000.

“Congress has long been strengthened by the skill, dedication and patriotism of our hard-working staffers, who enable us to fulfill our legislative and constituent responsibilities,” Pelosi said in a written statement. “The Democratic House is committed to honoring their service, while ensuring the Congress is well-positioned to compete for outstanding and diverse staff.”

Reece can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @ReeceNWrites

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