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In a first, House Education and the Workforce panel’s Democratic staffers look to unionize

Congressional Workers Union announces five successful office elections as well

"We commend the courageous congressional staff," seeking to unionize, said Taylor J. Swift, senior policy adviser at Demand Progress.
"We commend the courageous congressional staff," seeking to unionize, said Taylor J. Swift, senior policy adviser at Demand Progress. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The campaign to unionize Capitol Hill took another step forward Thursday, as the Congressional Workers Union announced that committee staffers filed to hold union elections for the first time.

Minority staffers on the House Education and the Workforce Committee have asked the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights to hold unionization elections, those workers and the CWU said in a joint statement. To date, only a handful of House member offices and one Senate office have unionized; if the Democratic aides on the committee vote in favor, they’ll form the first union attached to a standing committee rather than to the office of an individual elected official.

“As employees of the House committee charged with protecting workers’ rights, we are thrilled to be the first congressional committee in history to petition for a union,” the Democratic staffers said. “We hope this can be an opportunity for Committee Democrats to lead by example and practice what they preach: supporting every worker’s fundamental right to organize and negotiate for better working conditions.”

Education and the Workforce Chairwoman Virginia Foxx is no fan of organized labor. In keeping with Republican tradition, one of her first moves as the committee’s chair was to drop the term “labor” from its name, replacing it with “workforce.” A committee blog post explaining the change argued that the term was divisive: “Using outdated terms like ‘labor’ creates an overt bias towards union bosses while widening fissures created by Big Labor between workers and employers.”

Neither Foxx nor ranking member Robert C. Scott of Virginia responded immediately to requests for comment.

The CWU also announced union election results from offices that petitioned OCWR last year. Staffers for Reps. Sean Casten of Illinois, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Mark Takano of California all voted unanimously to form a union. Aides for Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada voted to unionize by a 7-1 vote.

The umbrella group also noted that three member offices filed union election petitions with OCWR: Democratic Reps. Mark DeSaulnier of California, Sylvia R. Garcia of Texas and Val Hoyle of Oregon.

“After a year of victories for congressional workers — including winning a historic $45,000 salary floor in the United States House of Representatives, securing our first contract with the Office of Congressman Andy Levin at a rate far outpacing the private sector, and celebrating our first Senate Office to seek voluntary recognition — CWU is thrilled to announce steady growth with new petitions, elections, and units at the bargaining table,” the CWU said in a statement. “We congratulate the Education and Workforce Committee minority staff on becoming the first committee in the United States Congress to petition to unionize. CWU will continue to strive for an inclusive, democratic workplace in Congress.”

The House only began allowing members’ staff to form unions last May after Democrats, then in the majority, adopted a resolution. Since then, 11 personal offices have formed unions and another five have petitioned for union elections (not including staff for former Michigan Rep. Andy Levin, who introduced the unionization resolution but then lost a primary battle). All so far have been Democratic offices.

The announcement was hailed by a progressive group focused on the ins and outs of congressional operations.

“We commend the courageous congressional staff — including those on the House Education and Workforce Committee — who are organizing to create better working conditions on Capitol Hill, especially in the wake of new House Rules aimed at rolling back the rights of House staff to unionize,” Taylor J. Swift, senior policy adviser at Demand Progress, said in an email. “These offices continue to pave the way for Congress to be a more fair and democratic employer that can better attract and retain a workforce reflective of our nation.”

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