In their new rules package passed on Monday, House Republicans moved to eliminate the union formed by congressional workers in recent years — a blatantly anti-worker move that signals their intentions for workers across the country under GOP House control.
The Congressional Workers Union, which has successfully unionized six offices so far, all belonging to Democrats, was given the go-ahead to unionize last year when Democrats voted to activate a provision in decades-old legislation that would allow the roughly 9,100 House staffers to unionize. Now, Republicans have voted to eliminate those unions in a largely party line vote.
However, it’s unclear if Republicans have the authority to eliminate the unions in this way. The union has been working to determine the legal authority that House rules packages can have over unionization; as The American Prospect and Roll Call have reported, experts on congressional rules are in agreement that the situation is complicated.
The legal reality depends largely on the way that the provision is written in the package; currently, it says that the resolution that afforded the workers the right to organize “shall have no force or effect.” It also depends on how the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights (OCWR), which oversees congressional unionization, decides to interpret that language.
According to Roll Call, it’s unlikely that the six offices that have unionized so far, belonging to Representatives Cori Bush (Missouri), Jesus “Chuy” García (Illinois), Ro Khanna (California), Ted Lieu (California), Ilhan Omar (Minnesota) and Melanie Stansbury (New Mexico), will have their unions decertified. It’s also unlikely that the seven offices that have petitioned to unionize — including that of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York) — will be barred from doing so.
But legal issues could still crop up, as it’s possible that either McCarthy or the unions will sue based on whether or not union elections continue, leaving the issue up to a federal court.
For the union, the practical reality is the same, regardless of how OCWR enforces the rules: The union is undeterred by the vote, it says, and they are determined to continue exercising their rights to organize regardless of which politicians are in power.
“Though we are disappointed to see the GOP-passed Rules package include both anti-worker and anti-union language, we are not surprised and have prepared for attacks from the very same party that claims to value America’s working class,” the union said in a statement. “What Kevin McCarthy and his aides fail to realize is that our organizing drive — which aims to elevate workers’ rights of staffers on both sides of the aisle — existed long before he cobbled together enough votes to win the Speakership, and it will continue after.”
The union noted that the GOP’s move has only fueled organizers’ determination to fight. “We have no plans to stop our unionization drive, and this has in fact invigorated workers to want to utilize their collective power even more,” their statement continued.
To union members and labor advocates, targeting the union is a clear show that the GOP is far from being the workers’ party that it sometimes claims to be. Though the summary of the package states that the elimination of the unions would hold staff “accountable to the elected officials they serve,” this language simply echoes typical union-busting language that is frequently used by anti-union companies.
By definition, congressional staffers are already “accountable” to their bosses. Being unionized doesn’t change that fact, and unionization only serves to give workers more control over their working conditions — not just for their own sake, but also for the sake of the public. Creating better working conditions within the halls of Congress will attract more qualified congressional staffers, they argue, combating the “brain drain” of workers who leave Congress to take higher paying, less exploitative private sector jobs.
Rescinding the right to unionize — which is afforded to a majority of workers outside of Congress in the U.S. — would only be stripping workers of a fundamental workers’ right, the union says.
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