Democratic lawmakers begin effort to let staffs join a union

Feb 9, 2022, 4:14 PM | Updated: 4:22 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — Some 130 Democratic House lawmakers have signed onto a bill that would extend to their staffs the right to unionize and engage in collective bargaining.

The effort has quickly gained momentum following comments from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Biden administration indicating their support.

Jobs on Capitol Hill are competitive and often provide a launching pad for more lucrative employment elsewhere. But the hours can be grueling, the pay low and the expectations from lawmakers exceedingly high. Meanwhile, the cost of living in the nation’s capital only adds to their challenge of making ends meet.

A group called the Congressional Workers Union announced staff unionization efforts last week, tweeting that 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. That starts with having a voice in the workplace.”

Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., introduced the bill Wednesday that would greenlight the unionization effort. He said legislation passed in the 1990s applied nearly a dozen employee protection laws to the legislative branch. But he said Congress failed to take the final action necessary to apply the protections to their own staffs. He said his bill would provide that final step.

“There’s no cause for further delay,” Levin said.

What form the unionization effort would take is unclear. Congressional aides work for individual members of Congress. Lawmakers get a fixed allowance to operate their office and have enormous flexibility to spend the money as they see fit to cover their personnel, supply and office rental needs. The average allowances was $1.44 million in 2020, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Levin said that congressional staff would have to drive the unionization process and that questions surrounding how it would work “are appropriate for another day.”

“My colleagues and I are listening to the workers and taking this first, critical step to get done what we should have decades ago: recognize congressional workers’ right to organize without fear of retaliation,” Levin said.

The Biden White House has sought to enact policies designed to strengthen labor unions, and in recent weeks, workers for Democratic groups such as the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have moved to unionize.

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Democratic lawmakers begin effort to let staffs join a union