Resolution to Allow House Staff to Unionize Filed; 130 House Members Pledge Support
WASHINGTON — Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., has inspired 130 of his Democratic colleagues to sign on as co-sponsors of a resolution, introduced Wednesday morning, intended to give House staffers the right to unionize.
As previously reported in The Well News, an effort by congressional staffers to launch a new employee union on Capitol Hill burst into the open this past week with a tweet from the heretofore unheard of Congressional Workers Union.
Levin, a long time labor attorney and proponent of collective bargaining, quickly stepped in as a champion of their cause, commending the group for speaking out about working conditions on the Hill and for engaging in a “thoughtful process” to “improve their workplaces.”
“Congressional staff deserve protections to organize and bargain collectively, just as all workers do,” Levin said in a Dear Colleague letter he circulated Tuesday night. “We, as elected officials, can better serve our constituents and improve working conditions here on Capitol Hill by extending them this right.”
Within minutes of sending the letter, members were signing on to a dedicated website to add their signatures to the bill.
In filing the bill on Wednesday, Levin noted the enthusiastic support of his colleagues, who, he said, recognized “we could not serve our districts or states without the hard work and dedication of congressional staff, and that we honor the staff-led efforts to organize Congress.”
“In recent weeks, congressional staff have bravely shared their workplace experiences, good and bad, clearly illustrating their need for the protected right to organize,” Levin continued. “Thus far, congressional staff have driven the unionization process — and they must continue to do so.
“Questions surrounding exactly how the unionization process will work are appropriate for another day. Today is about a simple proposition — that congressional staff must enjoy the same fundamental rights of freedom of association at work, to organize and bargain collectively for better conditions, that all workers deserve.
“My colleagues and I are listening to the workers and taking this first, critical step to get done what we should have done decades ago: recognize congressional workers’ right to organize without fear of retaliation,” Levin said.
Technically speaking, congressional staffers should have been allowed to unionize following the passage of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995. The act directed what is now called the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights to issue a regulation extending federal labor law, the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute, to the congressional workforce.
However, after the office issued the regulation in 1996, Congress never ratified it. The regulation would require passage of a simple resolution in each chamber to extend the right to unionize to all Hill employees. A resolution Levin filed Wednesday morning only applies to staffers on the House side of the Capitol.
Despite Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer being among those who have spoken out favorably about the unionization effort, there is still no clear indication that a similar resolution has been written in the Senate or when one might be taken up.
Despite the surge in support for the staffers from House Democrats, several members on both sides of the aisle said passing the resolution is the easy part; much harder will be the effort to craft an actual collective bargaining regime.
That’s because while Hill staffers are all paid from a centralized source, the employee-employer relationship is not between the Senate and the employee or the House and the employee, but between the individual member and the employee.
Critics of the unionization plan said a one-size fits all union structure simply won’t work on the Hill and that multiple unions might be necessary to ensure all who want membership will have it.
The Office of Congressional Workplace Rights administers the Congressional Accountability Act and works to guarantee the rights provided by the Act to employees and employing offices within the legislative branch.
In an email to The Well News, Gony Goldberg, associate general counsel to the OCWR, said the office will administer petitions for union representation, union elections and the unfair labor complaint process for the employees who are eligible to join.
Eligible employees who have not yet elected a union may petition for an election for a union to represent a group of bargaining unit employees provided:
- The employees provide the union with a “showing of interest,” i.e., signatures of at least 30% of the employees of an appropriate bargaining unit showing their wish to be represented by this union;
- The union petitions the OCWR;
- The OCWR certifies the validity of the signatures on the petition;
- Any other union can gain a place on the ballot by filing a petition showing they are supported by at least 10% of the employees;
- The OCWR holds an election; and
- Employees have the opportunity to vote to choose which labor organization, if any, they would like to represent them.
If a majority of the voting employees vote to be represented by a particular union, the OCWR board of directors will certify the union as the employees’ exclusive representative.
It is a violation of OCWR Substantive Regulation 2421.4(d)(1) for an employing office to interfere with, restrain, or coerce any employee in the exercise by the employee of any right under Chapter 71 (of Title 5) as applied by the CAA, Goldberg said.
As a result, any eligible employee who seeks to organize but is interfered with or restrained in that endeavor may file an unfair labor charge with the Office of General Counsel of the OCWR.
As for Levin, he said on Wednesday, “There is no cause for further delay.”
“I urge my colleagues to advocate that this resolution be brought to the House floor as soon as possible,” he said. “And in the meantime, I hope my colleagues will recognize a union if a majority of their staff indicates they have chosen to form one. We have an opportunity to demonstrate our values of believing in the collective voice and power of workers. We cannot stop fighting until every worker in the country can form a union, without interference, including our own employees, right here in the Congress of the United States.”