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A congressional staffer adjusts a sign before the start of a press conference

A congressional staffer adjusts a sign before the start of a press conference on Immigration with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Capitol Hill on Thursday, March 18, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

'There's Power in a Union': House Dems Intro Resolution to Allow Staffer Unionization

"Now is the time to demonstrate your commitment to all workers—including your own—through action."

Andrea Germanos

House Democrats on Wednesday introduced legislation recognizing congressional workers' right to unionize—a move the workers said must be swiftly followed by a floor vote.

"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."

The legislative proposal, H.Res. 915, is led by Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) and has 130 co-sponsors.

Approval for a new law is needed, as Politico reported last week, because as it stands now, "staffers in personal offices of members and committees can organize but there is not a process in place for them to codify a union or exercise collective bargaining rights."

The proposal comes days after Capitol Hill staffers publicly announced their organizing effort under the banner of the Congressional Workers Union.

Dozens of House lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, (D-Calif.), and the White House have announced their support of such efforts, which come amid recent media attention on numerous anonymous accounts of discrimination, poor pay, and other harmful working conditions in congressional offices.

"While not all offices and committees face the same working conditions," the Congressional Workers Union said last week, "we strongly believe that to better serve our constituents will require meaningful changes to improve retention, equity, diversity, and inclusion on Capitol Hill."

Speaking on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Levin, a former union organizer, pointed to those conditions. "In recent weeks," he said, "congressional staff have shared bravely their workplace experiences, good and bad, clearly illustrating their need for the protected right to organize."

Levin framed H.Res. 915 as being grounded in "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 decades ago: recognize congressional workers' right to organize without fear of retaliation," said Levin.

Levin's office points to a 1996 ruling from the Office of Compliance and Workplace Rights saying that the resolution was the last step needed to give House of Representative staffers legal protection to organize and bargain collectively.

In a video shared on social media, the Michigan Democrat is seen filing the measure and declaring: "There's power in a union."

Co-sponsors include Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California, who said Wednesday that "Congress doesn't function without congressional staff. They deserve a safe and fair workplace like every other worker in America."

In a statement applauding to Levin's resolution, the Congressional Workers Union said there's no time to wait in getting it pased.

“We need labor rights now," the group said, and pointed to the House's passage last year of the labor rights-strengthening PRO Act when lawmakers promised "to protect millions of people’s voices at work. Now is the time for Congress to live up to that promise in our own offices."

While welcoming lawmakers' support for their unionization push, the group expressed continued concern that "staff remain exposed to retaliation for our organizing efforts and will remain exposed until the House passes the Resolution to extend protections under Congressional Accountability Act."

"We urge House leadership, who has voiced support for the union effort, to bring it to the floor for a vote at the earliest opportunity," the group added. "Now is the time to demonstrate your commitment to all workers—including your own—through action. The world is watching.”

Outside groups, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), have backed the measure.

According to Mary Kay Henry, international president of SEIU, "These staffers who have helped keep our government running through the Covid-19 pandemic, January 6 insurrection and other challenges continue to be underpaid, overworked, and exposed to consistent hostile work environments."

"We are inspired by their courage to challenge the status quo in one of the most powerful institutions in our nation," she said, "and will not give up until every voice is respected, protected, and paid a livable wage on Capitol Hill."

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