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Staffers for Ed Markey Have Formed the US Senate’s First-Ever Union

“I am proud of my staff for embodying the commitment not to agonize, but to organize,” Markey said.

Sen. Ed Markey attends a press conference on funding climate change legislation outside the U.S. Capitol on October 7, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

Congressional staffers have formed the first-ever labor union in the U.S. Senate after Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) granted his staff voluntary recognition of their union on Wednesday, the same day the group announced its organizing drive.

On Wednesday morning, the Congressional Workers Union (CWU) announced that Markey’s staff were filing a petition for their union to be voluntarily recognized. The union said that 100 percent of the staff, or about two dozen workers, were in favor of unionizing.

“On Team Markey we don’t agonize — we organize,” the staffers said in a statement. “As members of the staff of the Office of Senator Markey, we are honored to work everyday on behalf of the people of Massachusetts and this nation. And now, we couldn’t be more proud to announce that we have signed a petition to form a union, and request voluntary recognition.”

Markey recognized the union shortly after.

“I applaud these passionate, dedicated workers who are exercising their right to organize through this fundamental, critical exercise in democracy,” Markey said in a statement, per Roll Call. “I am proud of my staff for embodying the commitment not to agonize, but to organize. I recognize their effort to unionize and look forward to engaging with them and the Congressional Workers Union.”

Though the House passed a resolution last year allowing House staff to unionize — which was later revoked by Republicans when they took control of the chamber this year — the Senate has never passed such legislation, meaning that Senate staff lack labor protections against measures like being fired for their union support.

By seeking recognition of the union, staffers were essentially risking retaliation from Markey and office management, though Markey has a relatively strong history of supporting unions, with some aberrations.

The CWU expressed frustration that the Senate has yet to take up a vote on the issue. Though the congressional union effort has been public for over a year, the union said, “the Senate has failed to act, continuing to deny Senate workers basic human rights by refusing to pass a simple resolution to apply the same protections for Senate congressional staff.”

“We commend the workers of Senator Ed Markey’s team who are joining together arm-in-arm in an unprecedented move to demand their rights — not ask for them,” the CWU added.

Last month, the CWU sent a letter to Democratic and progressive leaders in the Senate, asking them to hold a vote to allow staffers to unionize. Congressional staffers aren’t afforded the same labor protections as most other workers in the U.S. due to Congress failing to pass resolutions activating decades-old legislation recognizing their right to unionize. Though the status of the House unions have been unclear since Republicans voted last year to nix staffers’ rights to organize, the union has promised to forge ahead with their effort anyway.

“Many of us write and work tirelessly to advance the very laws that protect and promote every worker’s right to organize,” the CWU wrote in their letter. “We deserve those same rights — the institution of Congress should not be above the very laws it creates.”

For Markey’s staff, these protections may not be relevant, depending on how Markey and management decide to treat them. Still, staffers may get the chance to collectively bargain and form contracts setting the terms of their employment.

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