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Andy Levin

U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) holds a news conference on the congressional staffers' right to organize a union on May 11, 2022. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

'Historic Day' as Staff of 8 House Democrats File for Union Elections

"For far too long, congressional staff have dealt with unsafe working conditions, unlivable wages, and vast inequity in our workplaces."

Jessica Corbett

Staffers of eight Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday took a key step toward unionizing by filing petitions for representation at the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights.

"We are bringing worker power and equitable conditions to one of the most powerful institutions in the world."

Monday was the first day that congressional staff could make that move, after a resolution introduced in February by Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) passed the House in a May party-line vote.

Along with Levin's staff, the offices of Democratic Reps. Cori Bush (Mo.), Jesús "Chuy" García (Ill.), Ro Khanna (Calif.), Ted Lieu (Calif.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), and Melanie Stansbury (N.M.) are seeking union elections.

"July 18 will go down as a historic day for congressional staff and our democracy—marking the day our protected rights to organize and bargain collectively go into full effect," said the Congressional Workers Union (CWU) in a statement.

"For far too long, congressional staff have dealt with unsafe working conditions, unlivable wages, and vast inequity in our workplaces that prevent Congress from properly representing the communities and needs of the American people," CWU noted. "Having a seat at the bargaining table through a union will ensure we have a voice in decisions that impact our workplace."

The development comes after months of organizing and as workers at major corporations nationwide are also pushing for union representation.

"From Amazon and Starbucks to the halls of Congress to state legislatures across our country," CWU said, "every worker deserves the protected right of freedom of association, joining together with their colleagues in solidarity to organize and bargain collectively for a better workplace."

"We are bringing worker power and equitable conditions to one of the most powerful institutions in the world," tweeted Saul Levin, a policy adviser to Bush. "And we are just getting started!"

Groups across the country—from political workers in Colorado and New York to the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Staff Union—celebrated the filings and congratulated the congressional staffers.

"We are honored to be welcomed with open arms by workers into a broader labor movement that is sweeping the nation," said CWU. "We look forward to voting enthusiastically UNION YES in the coming weeks and sitting down at the bargaining table with our bosses."

A congressional organizer who requested anonymity also directed attention to members of Congress in comments to Roll Call.

"We're thrilled to finally be able to, I wouldn't say complete the process, but move to the next step," the staffer said. "[This] is really going to be a test of whether our bosses are willing to walk the walk when it comes to workers' rights."

Some lawmakers whose offices are organizing welcomed the development on Monday. Omar tweeted "union strong" and said in a statement that "as a former union member, I'm incredibly proud of the staffers in my congressional office who took steps to start the process of unionization."

"Every worker deserves a living wage and a union, including in the halls of Congress," she added. "None of the work we do in Congress would be possible without our tireless staff. I know the power that workers wield when they exercise their right to organize and form a union. I won't stop fighting for every worker in our country to have a $15+ minimum wage, paid leave, and a union. Solidarity forever!"

Khanna highlighted in a series of tweets that he was an original co-sponsor of Rep. Levin's resolution and said he looks forward to working with his staff however they choose to proceed.

Congressman Levin said in a statement that "I am so proud of the staffers who made a historic move today in seeking union recognition in eight offices with over 70 workers in the House, and I am incredibly humbled and honored to have played a modest role in helping realize the hard work of congressional staff who fought to make this moment possible."

"As a former union organizer and someone who spent decades in the labor movement, I know how important it is to keep the spotlight focused on the people today is truly about: the workers," he continued. "It is the workers who ensure that this institution—the bedrock of our fragile and precious democracy—operates efficiently and serves the American people here in the Capitol and in every corner of our nation. It is the workers who applied pressure, pushing their bosses to walk the walk and respect the will of staff. It is the workers who bravely stepped up despite potential backlash and interference and made clear that they want more of a voice in our workplace."

"Finally, it is the workers who office after office demonstrated the power of human solidarity," he added. "To the Congressional Workers Union members who led this fight, House staff current and former, allies and advocates on and off the Hill, thank you for your tireless advocacy. Solidarity!"

This post has been updated with comment from Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).

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