Employees in the US House of Representatives are one step closer to unionizing after a vote by their bosses on Tuesday night.
House lawmakers approved a proposal that provides legal protection to employees trying to organize their offices on Capitol Hill. Activists involved in the union effort say it marks a significant change to Congress’ workplace law that would allow them to unionize without fear of retaliation.
The House approved the motion on a party-line vote. But instead of voting on the resolution, Democrats incorporated it into a procedural measure to set up votes on a number of other laws, including aid for Ukraine.
The employee union measure can be implemented in the House without passing a companion resolution in the Senate. The measure benefits employees in house offices only.
House staff on the Democratic side who have spent more than a year building up the union campaign they hope will improve working conditions inside Capitol offices. newly built Congress workers union Has been sharing stories of employees who work ridiculous hours, struggle with abusive bosses and discrimination and can’t afford to live in Washington for low pay.
Representative Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who supported the measure, said that having the union’s House staff could eventually lead to Congress passing better legislation.
“The employees I’ve talked to inside and outside my office who are interested in union are probably the most committed to public policy,” Grijalva told HuffPost.
Separately this month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the minimum wage for House staff, $45,000. to set the floor,
Workers on the Hill do not have the same rights to band together and bargain collectively as most other American workers. Congress apparently granted Hill employees the ability to unionize in 1995 through Congressional Accountability ActBut lawmakers never took the important step of formally approving the rules put together by Congress’s Internal Workplace Agency to do so.
The measure, which the House passed on Tuesday, would protect activists who are organizing and establishing a process for bargaining through Congress’s Office of Workplace Rights. Representative Andy Levine (D-Mich.), a former union organizer and strong ally of organized labor, sponsored the House resolution and garnered support among fellow Democrats.
Two members of the Congressional Workers’ Union organizing committee told HuffPost before the vote that lawmakers had essentially exempted themselves from collective bargaining for years and that the House was now reforming a double standard. Two members of the committee spoke on condition of anonymity because they still felt vulnerable from retaliation.
“There is a culture of secrecy, and you have to pay your dues to work your way up the ladder. That is exactly what fuels the abuse of these workplaces,” said one. As other workers in the US have, we are in a place where we cannot fully address these concerns.”
If House members blocked collective bargaining in their own workplaces, it would suggest they think “they are above the laws they make,” the employee said.
Unions have made some big successes recently. Union Workers United has won more than 60 choices At Starbucks stores across the country just a few months after Starbucks went union-free in the US for decades. The recently formed Amazon labor union stunned the labor movement when won the historic election In a Staten Island, New York, warehouse in early April.
Progressive Democrats have rejoiced at those developments and have lambasted companies like Starbucks and Amazon for their anti-union campaigns. With the Democratic Party shifting in a more pro-Labor direction in recent years, it will be hard for Democratic lawmakers to oppose their own labor union effort without looking like total hypocrites.
One of the employees said that even some progressives would not like the idea of bargaining with the union, but they would have to if they wanted to follow their principles.
“If you look at who signed the resolution, there were many progressive leaders who weren’t the first to sign,” the employee said. “I think there’s public pressure to have those progressives.”
“There is a culture of privacy, and you have to pay your dues to work your way up the ladder. That is exactly what fuels these workplace abuses.”
– Member of Congress Workers’ Union Organizing Committee
It remains to be seen what collective bargaining looks like in Congress. John Uelman, general counsel for the Congressional Office of Workplace Rights, Testified at a House hearing According to the roll call, workers in March could unionize on an office-by-office basis instead of gathering in a bargaining unit. Within committees, each party would have its own employee bargaining unit, as the members of the unit would answer to various leaders.
In all likelihood, the event will take place primarily – and perhaps exclusively – on the Democratic side of the corridor. Republican lawmakers are opposed to unionizing their own offices, and many of their own conservative workers may not be interested in bargaining on union contracts.
It is also not clear what exactly employees will be able to bargain on. Union committee members told HuffPost they wanted to have their say on everything that unions usually do: pay, promotion processes, discipline and complaints, severance, health and safety issues, and more. (Federal employees outside the legislature branch have collective bargaining rights, but under the law, they cannot negotiate pay.)
Congressional staffers said they would consider any attempt to restrict their bargaining abilities as union-busting.
“At a time when activists across the country are standing up and fighting for their rights, we are looking for members of Congress, especially the Democratic leadership, to stand up for them,” said one employee. “Any of that union-dissolution would be a sad, sad thing for our party.”