Unionizing Congressional Staffers Is Going to Be Messy

Feb 11, 2022
4:49 PM

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Momentum continues on Capitol Hill to unionize Congressional offices after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) said last week that if staffers want to unionize, they would support their efforts.

Statements of support have flooded in from dozens of members’ offices ever since. However. support for staff unionization is a far cry from defining what unionizing efforts might look like which, in turn, is a far cry from actually unionizing member offices.

What’s missing is guidance on the formal structure of what unionizing could look like in Congress. As it stands, each office exists as its own employer and would have to unionize independently. Moreover, individual offices can organize using any union they see fit, at least in theory.

Then there’s the bicameral nature of Congress itself: the House and Senate are governed by different rules. So are the support entities on the periphery of the legislative branch, like the Library of Congress and the Architect of the Capitol.

Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI) took the first step this week toward empowering staffers in the House of Representatives to unionize by introducing a resolution that would allow member offices and committees the right to organize.

Despite being asked by reporters, Speaker Pelosi did not provide a timeline at her press conference on Wednesday regarding a timeline for when the resolution could see a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Even without a resolution passed, Levin says that Hill staffers already have a right to form a union in their offices, but acknowledges that the process will be anything but straightforward.

“In my reading of the law, they don’t have to wait,” Levin said. “It would be very brave if some of them do step out and I don’t know if they’ll feel like they can do that. There are 435 members of the House and then the Senate’s another matter where there are 100 senators. Each of us is our own employer. If a majority of my staff came to me and said, ‘Here’s a list of the 12 of us. We’ve signed a card. We’ve said we’re joining the Congressional Workers’ Union.’ I feel like I have the ability to say, ‘I recognize you and I will bargain with you. But they don’t really have any legally protected right to do that. So whether any of the offices feel like they can do that is really up to them. It would be a really brave thing to do, but I feel like when you have President Joe Biden speaking up for your rights, it’s their organizing campaign. I’m just here to shepherd the legislation that gives them their legal rights that they should have had a long time ago.”

The Congressional Staffers’ Union remains little more than an anonymous entity on social media, not unlike the Dear White Staffers account on Instagram that inspired the current push to unionize.

Asked by Latino Rebels what his message is for the administrator(s) of the Dear White Staffers movement, Levin said: “My message to them is that it’s incumbent upon us as lawmakers to provide you with legal protections so you don’t have to be anonymous anymore.”

Several Hill aides reached out to Latino Rebels for this story after the Dear White Staffers account posted a request for comment in their Instagram stories. So far the focus of the unionizing effort has been providing offices with the tools to organize that cannot be monitored by their bosses. Dear White Staffers postings have been awash lately with warnings against using work emails and Microsoft products to organize, for example, because organizers say bosses with admin access can access messages shared across those platforms.

Meanwhile, three senior staffers for progressive members who have been vocal in their support of staffers unionizing say they don’t feel comfortable leading the unionization efforts in their own offices.

“It’s gotta come from the ground up,” said a chief of staff for a progressive House member on the condition of anonymity. “At the end of the day, we are the management who need to be held accountable.”


Pablo Manríquez is the Washington correspondent for Latino Rebels. Twitter: @PabloReports