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Ilhan Omar and Ro Khanna’s Offices Overwhelmingly Vote to Unionize

The union says that staffers in other offices have expressed an interest in unionizing.

Rep. Ilhan Omar walks with staff after the Member-Elect class photo on the Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on November 14, 2018.

Two more congressional offices have voted to unionize in landslide wins, becoming the second and third congressional offices to ever form a union, the Congressional Workers Union (CWU) announced on Friday.

The offices of Representatives Ro Khanna (D-California) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) voted last week to join CWU, with a 9 to 1 vote and 21 to 0 vote, respectively. The union has won all of its elections so far, with several more in the pipeline; last week, the union announced that staffers in Rep. Andy Levin’s (D-Michigan) office had voted unanimously to form congressional staffers’ first-ever union.

“We are witnessing a moment right now on Capitol Hill and in the labor movement that will go down in history,” the union wrote in a statement. “Dozens of workers are making meaningful change in the congressional workplace by speaking up and demanding that our nation’s lawmakers provide them a democratic workplace with a seat at the table.”

The movement appears to be spreading. The offices of Representatives Dina Titus (D-Nevada) and Sean Casten (D-Illinois) filed union petitions recently, joining the offices of Representatives Cori Bush (Missouri), Chuy García (Illinois), Ted Lieu (California), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York) and Melanie Stansbury (New Mexico) in petitioning to unionize.

The new filings bring the total number of offices that have filed to unionize to 10. Union organizers say that staffers in other offices have expressed an interest in unionizing. Workers say that a union is needed in Congress in order to raise pay, address racial pay gaps and improve working conditions, which staffers say can be long and grueling.

Khanna and Omar have celebrated their offices’ victories.

“Unions are the bedrock of the middle class. The labor movement helped get us the 40 hour work week, the weekend, and child labor laws,” Omar said in a statement. “It is long past time the United States Congress became a unionized workplace, and that includes my own staff. I am proud of all the people on my team who have played a leading role in the staff unionization effort. Solidarity forever.”

Workers in Omar’s office, including CWU President Phillip Bennett, said in an interview with Teen Vogue that they hope the union — formed in an office led by a pro-union boss — can help pave a path for other staffers in non-progressive offices to unionize.

Staffers for other representatives “can go back to their offices and say, ‘Look, it’s not just the Squad, right? We have other members that are part of this as well,’” said union member and Omar staffer Jacklyn Rogers. “We’re just helping pave the way.”

Working conditions for congressional staffers on Capitol Hill are notoriously bad. Workers have had to take second jobs in order to survive, and research found about one in eight D.C.-based staffers didn’t make a living wage in 2020. This has led to a so-called brain drain from Congress, where workers with high levels of political working experience are poached by private sector employers, who often pay far better wages. Meanwhile, staffers often report facing racist or homophobic harassment in the halls of Congress.

House staffers were afforded the right to form a union earlier this year, when the House passed a resolution sponsored by Levin that activated congressional union provisions in decades-old legislation.

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