“The introduction of a resolution to grant Senate staff unionization rights long available to workers across this country is an important step toward strengthening Congress,” said Taylor J. Swift, senior policy advisor at Demand Progress. “We commend Senator Sherrod Brown and all senators supporting this important resolution to improve congressional workforce rights. A year of successful unionization efforts in the House has demonstrated that when congressional staff have a seat at the bargaining table, it results in higher wages, better benefits, and a healthier workplace. All staff — including those in Senate and Joint offices — must be afforded these same protections.”
Today, Rep. Kevin Kiley and Rep. Jamie Raskin in the House and Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Mike Lee, and Sen. Durbin in the Senate reintroduced the Protecting Reporters from Exploitative State Spying (PRESS) Act, legislation that prohibits overreach by government prosecutors seeking to extract confidential information and sources from reporters and their communications providers.
The reintroduction of this strong journalist shield legislation in both chambers demonstrates a commendable and bipartisan commitment by its sponsors to ensure First Amendment freedoms and accountability journalism can thrive.Continue reading “Demand Progress Statement on Today’s Reintroduction of the PRESS Act”
Today, several congressional offices — including the House Education and Workforce Committee’s Democratic staff — have filed union petitions in the House. Staffers in Reps. Val Hoyle, Sylvia Garcia, and Mark DeSaulnier have all recently filed union petitions while a majority of staffers in the offices of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mark Pocan, Mark Takano, Sean Casten, and Dina Titus have each formally voted to form unions.
“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, especially in the wake of new House Rules aimed at rolling back the rights of House staff to unionize,” said Taylor J. Swift, senior policy advisor at Demand Progress. “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.”
In a report released earlier this year, Demand Progress Education Fund analyzed the House Rules for the 118th Congress and affirmed the right to unionize by congressional staff following the passage of H.Res.1096 just over a year ago. We continue to urge the Senate to pass a similar resolution approving unionization for staff in the chamber.
In advance of tomorrow’s House Administration Oversight Subcommittee hearing on the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), 35 organizations and individuals across the political spectrum sent a letter today to leaders of the House Administration Oversight Subcommittee urging them to protect and further strengthen the OCE in its mission. Notably, the coalition asks for the removal of a new hiring provision instituted by the House Rules for the 118th Congress that could effectively prevent OCE from having staff and functioning.
The House Rules adopted by the 118th Congress imposed a two-term limit for Board members and required the Board to appoint OCE staff and set their compensation within 30 calendar days of adoption of the Rules resolution. The confluence of these two provisions might inadvertently result in a Board unable to appoint staff within the required timeframe.
The coalition led by Demand Progress and Public Citizen recommends the removal of the 30-calendar-day hiring provision. Board members are appointed by the Speaker and Minority Leader respectively, and should the Board lack a quorum and those appointments be delayed, the effect could be the constructive dismissal of all OCE staff with no ability to hire them.
The letter is below and also available here.
In a win for government spending transparency, the House is publishing highly detailed information about the money it spends on itself. The Clerk of the House just released the latest House Statements of Disbursements — which catalog every penny spent by every person in the House of Representatives — with new metadata (or entity identifiers).
The Clerk of the House recently reported that as of March 2023, the Statements of Disbursements data it publishes as a CSV file “now includes additional entity identifiers for select data fields, including, but not limited to, organization, vendor name, and description, to enable the public to better analyze and understand the data provided. CSV files posted prior to March 2023 will not include these new data fields.”
“The House’s new Statements of Disbursements metadata disclosure and the entire process to make this financial data public is a shining example of open government meeting government accountability,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress and co-founder of the Congressional Data Coalition. “From the start, the modernizing of the Statements of Disbursements data was developed in a transparent and collaborative effort between government and civil society facilitated by the Congressional Data Task Force. Together, they iteratively modeled what the data would look like and sought public feedback to make it as useful and user-friendly as possible. We commend the House Chief Administrative Officer and House administration for this model effort.”
Demand Progress successfully made the case to require the disclosure of such unique identifiers — like organization names including the CAO, the Clerk, a committee, an individual member, etc., to make it easier to analyze this spending data.
And we led a multi-year effort to transform the Disbursements from a paper-based to an electronic system, making it possible to track congressional spending in great detail over time.
We are still seeking the publication of unique identifiers for individual staffers, which would make it possible to better understand staff career paths, their pay and retention rates, and what happens when they leave Congress. The decision to publish that final key piece of the puzzle is up to the House Administration Committee.
Over the last 15 years, the House has gone from publishing its spending information in gigantic dusty books to publishing that information online but an unwieldy PDF, to publishing that same information as a digital spreadsheet, and now enhancing the digital spreadsheet with metadata so it’s possible to dig deeply and accurately into what the House is doing.
At the end of last week, the House Appropriations Committee published all earmark requests for FY 2024 on the committee’s website, including publishing them as a spreadsheet. This is great and welcome news. For the first time, the appropriations spreadsheet separated member names into different columns and included state, district, party, and recipient address. This makes the information significantly more usable. Thank you.
In fact, it’s so usable, we spent a little time over the weekend making it even more robust. We enhanced their spreadsheet by adding bioguide IDs for each member, appropriations subcommittee codes, a standardized recipient address (with help from ChatGPT), and extracted the recipient state and zip code. We have been playing around with using the AI to categorize whether the recipient entity is a non-profit or a governmental entity. We can imagine a lot of use cases for this cleaned-up data.
The spreadsheet is available online here. We are continuing to tinker with it.
Unfortunately, the Appropriators’ spreadsheet does not include the request summaries published on the committees website nor a direct link to the request letter. We would also love to see the EINs for the non-profit requesting entities, because then we could tie that request to their 990 tax form and maybe to their lobbying disclosure records as well.
Regardless, all in all, this is a significant step forward in improving the transparency of the requests and we hope it will continue to improve.
The earmarks dataset was also a great opportunity for us to play with marrying the new ChatGPT technology with Google Sheets. I think this technology has the possibility of fundamentally transforming how appropriators gather requests from the public — which is the subject of a current Senate request for comments — and how the committee gathers requests from members. The ability to clean up requests (i.e. moving information from unstructured to structured formats), categorize them, summarize them, and do due diligence on the requesters should be a game changer.
“Unions in the House of Representatives in the 118th Congress,” a new report released today by the Demand Progress Education Fund, analyzes how the new House Rules aimed at rolling back the rights of House staff to unionize fall short of achieving that purpose. Its analysis shows House staff can assert their rights to organize unions in the 118th Congress. The report was written by Kevin Mulshine, former Senior Advisor and Counsel on the first staff of the Office of Compliance/Office of Congressional Workplace Rights.
The report explains in detail the employee protections under the Congressional Accountability Act — a Gingrich-era congressional workplace law that allowed Legislative branch staff to unionize — and how that law applies today. House political and non-political staff earned the right to unionize last year with the passage of H.Res.1096.
“House staff can assert their rights to organize unions in the 118th Congress,” said Kevin Mulshine, special advisor to Demand Progress Education Fund and author of the report. “Contrary to what the House Rules may have intended to proscribe, staffers who want to exercise their rights to collectively organize should have little fear of a loss of legal protections for their actions.”Continue reading “Demand Progress Education Fund Affirms Right to Unionize by Congressional Staff in New Analysis of House Rules that Sought to End Unionization”
Today, the staff for Senator Markey’s office took the unprecedented step of seeking voluntary recognition of their effort to unionize. Although the House of Representatives in the 117th Congress granted its employees the ability to exercise their rights to collectively negotiate, the Senate has yet to take similar action. Demand Progress supports Senator Markey’s staff and the right for every Senate and joint congressional staffer to unionize.
“We applaud the staff of Senator Markey for seeking voluntary recognition for their nascent union,” said Taylor J. Swift, senior policy advisor of Demand Progress, a non-governmental organization focused on strengthening our democracy that led a broad coalition to advocate for the right of congressional staff to unionize in both chambers and pushed for higher staff pay and benefits.
“Seeking union recognition can be a difficult and intimidating process, but it is a crucial step towards securing workers’ rights and protections. The staff of Senator Markey’s office have shown courage and determination in their decision to unionize, a right federal employees, including those at the Architect of the Capitol, Library of Congress, and Capitol Police, have enjoyed have enjoyed for decades.
We urge Senate leadership to introduce a resolution in accordance with the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 to support Senate and joint congressional workers in their right to collectively negotiate without fear of retaliation. Providing these protections to all congressional staffers will foster a safer and more equitable workplace.”Continue reading “Demand Progress Extols Senator Markey’s Staff for Seeking Voluntary Recognition of their Union, Urges Senate to Introduce Resolution Allowing Senate and Joint Staff to Unionize”
Demand Progress Action and the Fred T. Korematsu Institute led a coalition of 85 civil society organizations to call on Congress to support a new bicameral legislative package introduced today by Senators Hirono and Duckworth and Reps. Takano and Tokuda that recognizes civil rights hero Fred Korematsu for his activism against US incarceration of American citizens and residents of Japanese ancestry in concentration camps during World War II.
“The legislation introduced by Senators Hirono and Duckworth and Reps. Takano and Tokuda honors the legacy of civil rights hero Fred Korematsu, who bravely challenged our government’s policy of forcing Americans and residents of Japanese ancestry into concentration camps during World War II,” said Hajar Hammado policy advisor of Demand Progress. “As xenophobia, racism, and anti-Asian violence surge in America, it’s critically important to elevate this grim history for all Americans to learn from it and to affirm the liberties that we must always be on guard to protect, just as Fred Korematsu did.”Continue reading “83 Organizations Join Demand Progress Action and the Fred T. Korematsu Institute to Support Passage of Legislative Package Honoring World War II-Era Civil Rights Hero Fred Korematsu Who Fought Against US Concentration Camps”
Demand Progress Education Fund and Freedom of the Press Foundation led a broad coalition of press freedom organizations, government accountability and civil liberties organizations, and media outlets in urging House leadership to let C-SPAN have independent control of cameras that broadcast and stream House floor proceedings.
The group sent a letter today to Speaker McCarthy and Democratic Leader Jeffries endorsed by organizations spanning the ideological spectrum.
“When C-SPAN is able to call its own shots, the American public benefits by getting an authentic and transparent view of how Congress functions and the mood of the chamber,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress Education Fund. “We can see what really happens on the House floor, such as unexpected bipartisan negotiations like when Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Gosar had a one-on-one conversation during the Speaker vote-a-rama.”Continue reading “Demand Progress Education Fund, Freedom of Press Foundation Lead 43 Organizations Calling on House to Let C-SPAN Control Cameras on the House Floor”