House Democrat unveils resolution recognizing staffers’ right to unionize

Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) arrives for a closed-door House Democratic Caucus meeting on Tuesday, June 15, 2021.
Greg Nash

Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) introduced a resolution on Wednesday that would formally recognize House staffers’ ability to form a union.

Passage of the resolution would be the first step to give congressional staff legal protection to unionize and engage in collective bargaining.

But beyond that, it’s unclear how exactly congressional staff could form a union in an institution where workplace policies can vary by individual lawmakers’ offices.

For now, 130 fellow House Democrats have signed onto Levin’s resolution to initiate the first step in letting their staffers unionize. 

“Questions surrounding exactly how the unionization process will work are appropriate for another day. Today is about 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,” Levin said.

The House is leaving for a scheduled recess later Wednesday through the end of February, meaning any vote on the resolution won’t be for another few weeks at least.

Levin urged fellow lawmakers to be supportive of staff forming their own unions at the individual office level while action is pending on the broader resolution.

“I urge my colleagues to advocate that this resolution be brought to the House floor as soon as possible. And in the meantime, I hope my colleagues will recognize a union if a majority of their staff indicates they have chosen to form one,” Levin said. 

Top Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), have expressed support for congressional staff unionization. 

“We’ve got to look at that, because of the multiplicity of various different managers that we have, which are members, who are relatively independent, elected by their constituents, not hired by any of us. But I think we need to look at this very closely. And, basically, I’ve always supported the right of workers to organize and collectively bargain,” Hoyer said Tuesday.

The introduction of Levin’s resolution comes only days after congressional staffers announced Friday they would be forming the Congressional Workers Union. 

The push gained momentum in recent weeks after an Instagram account popular with congressional staff called Dear White Staffers went viral on Capitol Hill, with aides sharing anonymous accounts of struggling to pay bills with their low salaries and overly demanding bosses.

While Levin’s resolution has broad support among Democrats, it’s expected to pass along party lines if and when it reaches the House floor.

“We do not support unionizing on the Hill,” Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), the third-ranking House Republican, told reporters on Tuesday.

Lawmakers have long sought ways to improve staff retention on Capitol Hill, where turnover has been high for years due to low pay and grueling hours in a high-pressure environment.

Salaries have remained stagnant in part because members of Congress have declined annual cost-of-living adjustments for themselves since 2009. Some lawmakers, including Hoyer, have sought to reinstate the cost-of-living adjustment. But that’s met resistance from members of both parties who fear the political optics of voting to give themselves a raise when public approval ratings of Congress have been low.

Rank-and-file members of Congress currently earn $174,000 annually, while certain members of leadership earn more. Pelosi last year announced that congressional staff could start earning salaries higher than their bosses — up to $199,300 — in an effort to boost retention among senior staff.

But that move did not institute a salary floor, meaning congressional offices could still pay entry-level staff low salaries — as little as around $30,000 annually — that haven’t kept up with the rising cost of living in the Washington, D.C., area.

Tags Andy Levin Congressional staff Elise Stefanik House bill Nancy Pelosi Steny Hoyer unionization workers rights

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