By COLIN STAUB
Congressional staffers have long had the right to unionize, in theory. Now, they’re getting the legal protection to do so.
Congressional Workers Union—a volunteer-run union unaffiliated with any other union—publicly announced its existence in February after more than a year of organizing. The launch came alongside wider scrutiny on Congressional staff working conditions, including from the popular Dear White Staffers Instagram account. At latest count, 9,856 staffers work for individual House members or for House committees.
“While not all offices and committees face the same working conditions, we strongly believe that to better serve our constituents will require meaningful changes to improve retention, equity, diversity, and inclusion on Capitol Hill,” the union said in its launch announcement.
But lack of legal protection was a hurdle to clear before the union effort could progress. The Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute, which is akin to a National Labor Relations Act for federal workers, does not extend collective bargaining rights to Congressional staff. No law requires their employer, Congress, to recognize or bargain with their union, and workers who got involved in union activity have no legal protection from retaliation.
A resolution that passed the House May 10 fixes that problem (for House staffers). The fix was introduced Feb. 9 as H.Res.1096 by U.S. Representative Andy Levin, a Michigan Democrat, and it simply extends the federal labor relations law to cover Congressional staffers. H.Res.1096 had 165 House cosponsors, including Oregon Democrats Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici and Peter DeFazio.
The House approved H.Res.1096 as part of H.Res.1097, a separate resolution that set terms for considering a bill to provide emergency funding for Ukraine. It passed 217-202 entirely on party lines. Oregon’s four Democratic representatives voted for it, while Oregon Republican Cliff Bentz and southwest Washington Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler opposed the bill.
House resolutions don’t need Senate approval, because the only apply to operations within the House. For Senate staff members to win those rights, the Senate would have to adopt similar language.
“Congressional staff are joining a broader movement of workers in our society who are organizing, bargaining collectively and stepping up to make clear that they want more of a voice in their workplaces,” Levin said in a statement after the vote.
In a statement celebrating the resolution, the Congressional Workers Union said the vote was “the first of many tests of whether our bosses are willing to walk the walk on workers’ rights.”
“We look forward to meeting at the bargaining table to negotiate the long list of improvements necessary to ensure livable wages, dignified work conditions, and equity on Capitol Hill,” the union wrote.