Skip to content

Markey staffers begin collective bargaining, a win for union organizers

Announcement represents first progress for the congressional labor push in months

Staffers for Sen. Edward J. Markey, seen here in 2021, announced progress in their unionization effort.
Staffers for Sen. Edward J. Markey, seen here in 2021, announced progress in their unionization effort. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The movement to unionize congressional staffers took a step forward Monday as Sen. Edward J. Markey formally recognized his aides’ bargaining unit and signed a ground rules agreement, setting the stage for contract negotiations to begin in earnest.

Markey voluntarily recognized the union last year, but this made things official. The Massachusetts Democrat’s office is the first — and only so far — to unionize in the Senate and will now join a handful of House offices. So far, no congressional office has signed a collective bargaining agreement, except for then-Rep. Andy Levin’s staff, which entered an agreement only shortly before the Michigan Democrat left office.

Both management and the junior staffers applauded the development. “The work of the Senate and our democracy wouldn’t happen without congressional staffers, and I am proud to recognize their contributions and the effort of my staff to unionize,” Markey said. “I thank them for everything they do every day, and I look forward to continuing to engage with them and the Congressional Workers Union.”

“A year ago, we came together to request voluntary recognition. In the year since we have experienced the great joy of linking arms and bargaining collectively,” Markey’s staff wrote in a statement. “We have also experienced great loss in the passing of our late Chief of Staff, John Walsh, who believed deeply in the power of organizing and our capacity for doing good. We know he is with us today as we celebrate this historic step forward.”

Walsh was diagnosed with stomach cancer and died last fall at the age of 65. The veteran political adviser joined Markey’s staff after running his successful 2020 reelection campaign. 

The Congressional Workers Union, an umbrella group for the individual member and committee office staff unions, hailed the news as a sign of tangible progress. “We are proud of the workers in Senator Markey’s office who have come together to collectively bargain for an unprecedented Voluntary Recognition and Ground Rules Agreement and look forward to continued negotiations as they work toward a Collective Bargaining Agreement,” a CWU spokesperson said in a statement.

The CWU began organizing Hill offices in 2022 after the House adopted a resolution that allowed unions by authorizing regulations promulgated by the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights. The campaign came amid wider demands from congressional staffers for better pay and working conditions after years of stagnant wages in an increasingly expensive city.

The Senate never adopted its own authorizing resolution, however, which left would-be organizers there unprotected by federal labor laws. CWU petitioned Senate leaders for a vote on that resolution last year to no avail. Even though labor-friendly Democrats control the Senate, they would need to overcome a potential filibuster. That would require some GOP support before the Senate could implement unionization rules OCWR wrote pursuant to the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 — a law Republicans adopted nearly three decades ago to subject Congress to the same workplace laws as private companies.

Without the resolution in place, Markey in theory could have retaliated against his staffers for organizing. But that was never a real risk, given the progressive lawmaker’s long-standing support for the labor movement.

To date, 18 offices have formed or petitioned OCWR for a union, not counting Levin’s office, with most coming in an initial rush after the House resolution. According to the CWU, a handful of House offices are currently bargaining, but the process can take time: A Bloomberg Law analysis across industries found it takes an average of 458 days to get a contract. That it might take longer on the Hill, where there’s precious little unionization precedent, comes as no surprise.

Monday’s announcement marks the first significant sign of public progress for the CWU since last summer, when minority staff on the House Education and the Workforce Committee petitioned the OCWR for union elections, making them the first committee aides looking to organize.

Recent Stories

Democratic lawmaker takes the bait on Greene ‘troll’ amendment

Kansas Rep. Jake LaTurner won’t run for third term

At the Races: Impeachment impact

Capitol Lens | Striking a pose above the throes

Democrats prepare to ride to Johnson’s rescue, gingerly

Spy reauthorization bill would give lawmakers special notifications