The big news. Many political and nonpolitical House staff will be able to unionize now that Rep. Levin’s resolution, H.Res.1096, passed the House last week. The OCWR must publish the regulations in the Congressional Record and (oddly) the OCWR has not (yet?) exercised its authority to shorten the 60 day waiting period, which starts upon publication in the Congressional Record, for the protections to go into effect. OCWR had testified to House Admin that the House could speed up implementation if it elucidated good cause to shorten the window, suggesting (at the time) that those views could be published in an accompanying committee report. Maybe there’s some other way they could be communicated?
“Today’s vote to allow House staff to unionize portends a significant advance in the working conditions for congressional staff and is a high point in efforts to restore Congress’s strength as a robust institution capable of working on behalf of the American people,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director, Demand Progress.
“In the wake of a series of revelations about mistreatment of congressional staff and in the aftermath of decades of neglect, House political and non-political staff will finally be able to organize and negotiate for better working conditions without fear of retaliation.
We applaud all the congressional staffers and particularly the Congressional Workers Union for their ceaseless advocacy in support of improving staff working conditions; we commend Representative Andy Levin for his championing of the congressional unionization resolution, co-sponsored by a wide array of Members of Congress; Representative Zoe Lofgren for conducting thorough oversight through the Committee on House Administration; and Speaker Pelosi and senior leadership for bringing the measure to the House floor.
In combination with adjusting office funding levels by 21%, providing significant investments in Congress’s oversight capabilities, ensuring that no staffer earns below a living wage, and strengthening workplace protections, this House of Representatives has done more to strengthen the Legislative Branch than any Congress in the last 30 years.”
Overview. This week had a ton of good news for Congressional staff. A vote is set to adopt Rep. Levin’s resolution that would afford many House political and non-political staff the opportunity to organize into a union. Speaker Pelosi issued a pay order that will require, by September 1, that all House staff be paid no less than $45,000 annually. And Speaker Pelosi increased the maximum pay a staffer can earn to $203,700, from $199,300, an amount identical to the top rate for Senate staff. The minimum pay levels and pay order enjoys strong bipartisan support, and rightly so. Last week Reps. Hoyer and Jeffries sent an excellent letter calling for COLAs for political offices and a wide range of improved staff benefits. And, lest we forget, the House Modernization Committee has advanced scores of recommendations to improve legislative operations. This House is on track to improve the working conditions for its staff in the 117th Congress more than Congress has over the last three decades combined.
“Today is a proud moment in congressional history and portends a significant advance in the working conditions for congressional staff,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director of Demand Progress, a non-governmental organization focused on strengthening our democracy that has led a broad coalition to advocate for the right of congressional staff to unionize and pushed for higher staff pay.
This week. The Senate is in; the House is out until May 10. We are sending an abbreviated First Branch Forecast because we are tired. Don’t worry, we’ll have the highlights from the gazillion hearings this past week, including 3 Leg Branch, 2 CJS, and House Judiciary and ModCom hearings.
TREATING STAFF LIKE PEOPLE
No one noticed, but the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights published a notice of proposed rulemaking on updating outdated overtime regulations for the Legislative branch. This is a BFD if you think that staff who work more than 40 hours a week should receive overtime pay. And we do. OCWR said this rulemaking would “modify this substantially lower salary test set by the 1996 FLSA Substantive Regulations that are financially outdated and yet remain in effect.” How out of date? The current requirements make staff eligible for overtime only if they earn under $13,000 per year, way below poverty level. If you think it should be higher, public comments are due by May 26 to [email protected].
Compensating Leg branch staff on par with Exec branch staff remains a priority for Demand Progress and other civil society organizations, Chris Cioffi noted in Roll Call last week. The House should implement the House IG’s 2021 recommendations to ensure pay parity and provide an annual cost-of-living adjustment for Leg branch employees.
The Senate was urged to pass the Periodically Listing Updates to Management Act (PLUM Act, S. 3650) by a coalition of 27 organizations and individuals led by Demand Progress in a letter sent to Senate leadership last week. The PLUM Act would increase transparency and oversight of the most senior leaders of the Executive Branch. The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted to favorably report the bipartisan legislation on March 30, 2022.
This week. The Senate is in today; the House is in tomorrow. This week, we’ll be glued to another round of Leg branch approps hearings on the Library of Congress, GPO, & the AOC; a CJS approps double-header with the Justice Department, a ModCom hearing on modernizing the legislative process; and a House Judiciary hearing on judicial ethics. Oh, and on suspension is the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act, which passed the Senate already and, if enacted, would create a stock trading and online financial disclosure system for the judiciary.
This week. The House and Senate are out until next week. When they’re back it is going to be pandemonium— the next three months everything accelerates and decelerates at the same time — so prep now and remember to spend some time outside.
Appropriations redux. Our calendar of upcoming testimony deadlines is here, with House member requests to committees dues between April 27-29. Public witness testimony deadlines are being announced, with CJS on May 13th. House approps subcommittee and full committee markups are tentatively set for June, with floor votes in July. The Senate likely will have an equally aggressive schedule, but all that depends on whether the two chambers (and two parties) can agree on top line budget numbers. If not, this could be the end of appropriations-not-by-CR for the foreseeable future. We are expecting minibuses and omnibuses unless, of course, everything gets railroaded.
In Case You Missed It. We know, faithful readers, that you endeavor to read each and every newsletter when its bits and bytes are newly minted. But we forgive you if last weeks’ was too much and you were too busy. So, ICYMI —
This week. The House and Senate are in recess for two weeks and not a moment too soon, with many Members of Congress reporting they’ve tested positive for COVID-19 and, we suspect, many others failing to make a public announcement. Mandatory mask wearing should return to the halls of Congress, positive tests should be recorded and published, and maximum telework should continue, but we expect symbolism will remain elevated over safety. Please be safe (and smart) out there.
Last week was so busy and we expect it will be even worse before the start of the next recess. When Congress returns in two weeks, approps season will be at full blast; we’ve compiled upcoming deadlines for approps testimony here.
Citing our research, House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) appealed to appropriators in 2021 to increase office budgets to cover a cost of living bump for staffers. After the omnibus became law earlier this month, the party leaders once again called for the increase to apply to House staff pay. The 21% MRA increase, then, is intended to catch up for years of declining wages in the House, which has become increasingly uncompetitive compared to the Senate, the Executive branch, state and local governments, and especially the private sector.