Workers in Rep. Andy Levin’s (D-Michigan) office have reached a tentative agreement on the terms of Congress’s first-ever union contract, marking a major milestone for the congressional workers’ union that was announced just earlier this year.
The contract would provide roughly $10,000 raises for workers, raising the average salary in the office for junior staffers to $76,000, the Congressional Workers Union said.
“For the first time in the history of the U.S. Congress, congressional staffers sat at the bargaining and demanded higher pay from management,” the union wrote in a statement. “Workers walked into negotiations with equity top of mind, and walked away with a $10,000 raise and a meaningful end-of-the-year bonus.”
The contract shows “the power of organizing and how life-changing joining a union can be,” the union said. “When workers and employers come together to negotiate in good faith, the result is a contract and a workplace that better serves everyone.”
Levin’s office voted unanimously to unionize in September, becoming the first office in Congress to ever form a union. Since then, the offices of Representatives Ro Khanna (D-California), Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Melanie Stansbury (D-New Mexico) also voted to unionize, all with landslide victories.
Six other offices, including those of Representatives Cori Bush (D-Missouri) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), have filed to unionize and are waiting on their elections.
The pay bump for Levin’s workers will only last a couple of months, as Levin lost his primary after pro-Israel groups spent millions on the effort to defeat him. Levin is a strong supporter of the union effort, and was hand picked by union organizers to introduce the legislation allowing congressional workers to unionize earlier this year.
“I think if we truly value having an effective workplace and an efficient workplace and a workplace that matches the amazing diversity of our country — racial, ethnic and also socioeconomic diversity — we need to give our workers the chance to organize and bargain,” Levin told Roll Call.
“I really believe that we have launched a new era of labor relations and working conditions in Congress, where workers will have much more say in how things go,” Levin said.
Congressional workers say that low pay is a major factor motivating them to unionize. Workers in Congress often have to work long hours and face grueling working conditions, only to make far less than would in a comparable private sector job. Conditions are especially bad for non-white workers, who make thousands less on average than their white counterparts on Capitol Hill and often describe facing racist abuse at work.
Detractors of the union effort had claimed that congressional workers aren’t allowed to negotiate their salaries. Now, union advocates can point to an example that proves their opponents wrong.
Government advocacy group Demand Progress said that the new contract will help take a step toward stemming the so-called brain drain of skilled congressional staffers leaving their jobs to take high paying consulting or lobbying jobs.
“For decades, Hill staff have struggled to make ends meet with a median annual salary of $50,000 while their federal agency counterparts make roughly 20 percent more on average,” said Demand Progress Policy Advisor Taylor J. Swift in a statement. By contrast, Demand Progress pointed out, the starting salary for Capitol Police appears to start at over $73,000.
“Today’s action will also go a long way toward slowing the revolving door and restoring the First Branch’s ability to recruit and retain staff who are committed to working in Congress for the long haul,” Swift said.