The Democratic staff on the House Education and the Workforce Committee announced on Thursday that they have filed a petition to form a union, the Congressional Workers Union (CWU), marking the first committee staff in congressional history to unionize.
If the workers’ union is approved, they will be able to collectively bargain for provisions like salary, sick leave and better working conditions. These negotiations would be done with management and the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Bobby Scott (Virginia). The negotiated contract would not include Republican staffers, who have not filed a petition to unionize.
The Education and the Workforce Committee is tasked with overseeing labor issues, including unionization. The Office of Congressional Workplace Rights administers unions within Congress.
“As employees of the House committee charged with protecting workers’ rights, we are thrilled to be the first congressional committee in history to petition for a union,” unionizing committee staff said in a statement, per The Washington Post. “We hope this can be an opportunity for committee Democrats to lead by example and practice what they preach: supporting every worker’s fundamental right to organize and negotiate for better working conditions.”
Demand Progress, a group that has been involved in helping congressional staffers unionize, celebrated the committee staff’s decision to file a union petition.
“We commend the courageous congressional staff — including those on the House Education and Workforce Committee — who are organizing to create better working conditions on Capitol Hill,” said Demand Progress senior policy advisor Taylor J. Swift. “These offices continue to pave the way for Congress to be a more fair and democratic employer that can better attract and retain a workforce reflective of our nation.”
The staffers join a number of other offices in CWU’s union drive, which staffers took public last year after enduring years of low pay, long hours and often abusive working conditions. Last year, staffers for then-Rep. Andy Levin (D-Michigan) reached an agreement on the first-ever union contract in Congress, winning $10,000 raises.
CWU announced several other offices that have filed to unionize alongside the committee Democrats, including the offices of Representatives Mark DeSaulnier (California), Sylvia Garcia (Texas) and Val Hoyle (Oregon), all Democrats.
The union also announced several offices that have won their union elections recently, nearly all in a unanimous vote, including the staff of Democratic Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York), Sean Casten (Illinois), Mark Pocan (Wisconsin), Mark Takano (California) and Dina Titus (Georgia).
House staffers won the right to unionize last year after the House passed a resolution activating a provision in a decades-old law giving them protection for collective bargaining and unionization. Republicans voted to kill that provision in their rules package in January, but an analysis of the legislation that originally gave workers the right to organize by the Demand Progress Education Fund released in March found that the Republican rule did not nullify the House workers’ rights.
The Senate has not passed the corresponding resolution that would activate protections against retaliation for unionizing Senate workers; CWU has asked Senate leaders to bring it to a vote, but the resolution would likely not have enough support from Republicans and certain conservative Democrats to surpass the 60-vote filibuster threshold. Still, workers in Sen. Ed Markey’s (D-Massachusetts) office formed the U.S. Senate’s first-ever union in March after the senator voluntarily recognized their union.
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