Staffers for progressive Rep. Andy Levin (D-Michigan) have unanimously voted to form a union, becoming the first congressional office in U.S. history to unionize.
Last week, workers cast their ballots on the question of joining the Congressional Workers Union (CWU), a group formed in recent years in response to what staffers say are abusive and poor working conditions in the halls of Congress. The result of the vote was announced on Monday by the union, which celebrated their first win.
“It is with great pride we announce the landslide union election victory in Congressman Andy Levin’s office,” the union said in a statement.
“While exercising their right to vote, the workers clearly and emphatically expressed their desire to bargain collectively and have a seat at the table to determine workplace conditions and benefits,” the union continued. “CWU is ecstatic to support these workers as we move to the bargaining table and negotiate a contract representative of workers’ needs for the first time in congressional history.”
The results are in! Staff in @RepAndyLevin’s office unanimously voted to form a union, making it the FIRST congressional office union in the history of the U.S. Congress. 🎉🥳
— Congressional Workers Union (@Congress_Union) September 26, 2022
The union will only exist for a few months, as Levin was defeated by deep-pocketed special interest groups in his primary in August.
However, more unions may soon be forming. Next up to vote on unionization are the offices of Representatives Ro Khanna (D-California) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), the union says. They are voting via electronic ballot on Wednesday and Thursday.
At least five other offices, including those of Representatives Cori Bush (Missouri), Chuy García (Illinois), Ted Lieu (California), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York) and Melanie Stansbury (New Mexico), have also filed to unionize. Their elections have yet to be announced.
As when workers unionize through votes or voluntary recognition processed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), workers will now begin bargaining with management to negotiate a first contract. Eligible staffers in Levin’s office will now be able to negotiate pay and other compensation, which workers say is often far too low for Washington, D.C., as well as provisions like parental leave.
According to a report released earlier this year, about 1 in 8 D.C.-based congressional staffers, or about 1,200 workers, didn’t make a living wage in 2020. And, even among staffers who make a living wage, this is still insufficient for many, as workers of their caliber are often wooed away from Congress by private sector jobs that pay far better.
Further, workers – especially nonwhite workers – frequently report facing harassment regarding their race and sexuality, making them feel unsafe; the January 6 2021 attack on the Capitol highlighted feelings of danger, the union said.
The staffers were afforded the right to unionize in May, after Levin had filed legislation activating a section of the decades-old Congressional Accountability Act that protects staffers from being penalized for unionizing – protections already afforded to most, but not all, workers across the U.S. Senate staffers are still unable to unionize as the Senate has not passed corresponding legislation.
When the House staffers petitioned to unionize in July, Levin celebrated the filing.
“It is the workers who ensure that this institution – the bedrock of our fragile and precious democracy – operates efficiently and serves the American people here in the Capitol and in every corner of our nation,” he said at the time, expressing solidarity with the labor organizers. “It is the workers who applied pressure, pushing their bosses to walk the walk and respect the will of staff. It is the workers who bravely stepped up despite potential backlash and interference and made clear that they want more of a voice in our workplace.”