Every two years, each chamber of Congress passes a set of ground rules at the beginning of the new legislative session. On Jan. 9, the newly-Republican-controlled House of Representatives approved its rules, one of which strips House staffers of their right to unionize.
In theory, Congressional staffers were granted the right to unionize back in 1995 with the passage of the Congressional Accountability Act. That law ended the decades-old exemption of roughly 30,000 Congressional employees from civil rights, wage and hour, workplace safety and health and other labor laws. When it came to union rights, the law said Congressional employees were supposed to be governed by the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute, the same law that spells out rather weak union rights for federal executive branch employees. The new workplace rights for Congressional staffers took effect immediately, except for one: The law said the union rights would only take effect after each chamber passed a separate resolution to approve implementing regulations. Neither the House nor the Senate ever passed the followup resolution.
Until last May, when the House approved House Resolution 1096 as a special fix to implement the union rights—entirely on party lines. After it passed, staffers voted to join the newly formed Congressional Workers Union (CWU) in a handful of House offices, including those of Andy Levin (D-Mich.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Chuy García (D-Ill.), and Ted Lieu (D-Calif.). Workers in seven other Congressional offices also launched union drives that haven’t yet held elections—in the offices of Sean Casten (D-Ill.), Dina Titus (D-Nev.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
But the new Republican House eliminated those newly won union rights. On Jan. 2, the House Rules Committee published its proposal for how business will be conducted in the lower chamber of the 118th Congress. Included in the 55-page House Resolution 5 is a line declaring that regulations adopted pursuant to House Resolution 1096 in 117th Congress “shall have no force or effect” in the 118th. A summary published by the Republican-controlled House Rules Committee explained the intent of that provision—to “eliminate Democrats’ creation of House staff labor unions so that Congressional staff are accountable to the elected officials they serve.”
The House approved House Resolution 5 on Jan. 9 by a vote of 220-213, with all but one Republican voting in favor and every Democrat opposed.