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The House Will Vote Next Week on Allowing Its Staffers to Unionize

The Congressional Workers Union, which has been organizing for over a year, is urging members to vote “yes.”

Congressional staffers eat by the reflecting pool during the 36th annual Capitol Hill ice cream party on June 6, 2018, outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

House leadership has scheduled a vote for a resolution that would allow House staffers to unionize, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) announced on Friday. The announcement comes three months after congressional workers first announced that they were unionizing.

Rep. Andy Levin’s (D-Michigan) resolution, introduced shortly after workers brought their union efforts public in February, would give workers the green light to start unionizing office-by-office. Some Democrats, including Pelosi, have voiced their support for the effort, but it’s as yet unclear whether it will have enough votes to pass.

In reaction to the news of the upcoming vote, the Congressional Workers Union (CWU) pressured lawmakers to approve the resolution. “Next week, the credibility of lawmakers will be put to the test. Will our bosses finally lead by example?” the union said in a statement. “With this vote, every member of Congress will have the opportunity to grant their own workers the right to organize and bargain collectively, free from retaliation.”

“We welcome and look forward to the vote, and we expect that every member who has stood up for workers’ rights will vote for our right to form a union,” the union continued. “If Democrats are For the People, we are people too.”

Levin celebrated the news. “I’m excited that my resolution to grant House staffers the right to unionize and bargain collectively will be considered on the House Floor next week,” he said. “Congressional staff have waited long enough. Let’s go!”

CWU has been organizing for over a year. Last month, they sent a letter urging Pelosi to schedule a vote on the resolution, saying that staffers have waited long enough to be allowed to unionize. (The legislation that sets the groundwork for staffers’ unions passed nearly three decades ago, but was never implemented.)

The union says that workers often face abusive conditions at work, as they’re expected to work long hours and for low pay. Conditions are especially bad for non-white staffers, who say that they feel as though there’s no room for advancement for them. Non-white people are already in the minority among congressional staff, which is largely white, and non-white staffers have reported experiencing racism at work.

In a first, Pelosi also announced that she is now setting a minimum pay for House staffers. Starting September 1, the pay floor will be set at $45,000. This is slightly lower than the Washington, D.C. living wage of around $49,000 for a single adult without children, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living wage calculator, but still higher than the $30,000 that some staffers are reportedly making.

“With a competitive minimum salary, the House will better be able to retain and recruit excellent, diverse talent. Doing so will open the doors to public service for those who may not have been able to afford to do so in the past,” Pelosi said in a press release. “This is also an issue of fairness, as many of the youngest staffers working the longest hours often earn the lowest salaries.”

Staff turnover is incredibly high on Capitol Hill, and it reached a new high last year. With low pay and long hours, there is a high incidence of so-called brain drain among congressional staff – often highly qualified individuals – with many leaving for private sector jobs with higher pay.