There’s a growing effort this appropriations season to decrease Member Representational Allowance (MRA) funds, which would inevitably result in lower pay for congressional staff, something a new coalition led by Demand Progress is fighting.
Why? Low staffer pay fuels the revolving door and drives a high turnover rate on Capitol Hill — a staff exodus hit a 20-year high in 2021. When Congress loses institutional knowledge like that, it’s less able to govern and conduct oversight. It’s more likely to let lobbyists sway policy.
“Cutting MRAs is a horrible return on investment for the Legislative branch. For decades, Congress underpaid its own staff, self-inflicting a wound of diminished capacity, which undercut its ability to oversee and rein in the federal government’s sprawling administrative bureaucracy,” said Taylor J. Swift, senior policy advisor at Demand Progress. “To retain expert staff and promote a strong workforce, it’s essential Congress pays its staff at least as much as their counterparts in the Executive branch and private sector.”
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.”
Demand Progress Action joined forces with the Congressional Progressive Staff Association (CPSA) and the Congressional Workers Union to implore leaders from both chambers to enact Office of Congressional Workplace Rights (OCWR) regulations to update Fair Labor Standards Act overtime provisions for congressional staff before the lame duck session ends. Demand Progress sent letters today to House and Senate leaders. The CPSA letter endorsed by the Congressional Workers Union and more than 220 congressional staffers is here.
Back in September, the OCWR described the current regulations as “woefully outdated” when it issued new guidelines that would bring congressional overtime pay to parity with the executive branch and private sector. The newly proposed regulations cannot go into effect until approved separately or collectively by each chamber of Congress.
On September 28, 2022, the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights (OCWR) announced its Board of Directors voted to update regulations implementing the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The OCWR Board of Directors also called on Congress to approve the proposed changes in the Congressional Record.
The current FLSA regulations that apply to Congress were issued by the Office of Compliance (the previous name of the OCWR) back in 1996. In its recent press release, the OCWR said the 1996 regulations are “woefully outdated” and the new regulations will modernize the overtime provisions to bring Legislative branch employees’ overtime pay to parity with the Executive branch and the private sector.
The updated proposed regulations are here, and the current regulations are available here.
In March 2021, the OCWR Board of Directors issued its Section 102(b) report for the 117th Congress. The reports provides several recommendations that have not been implemented within the Legislative branch, as well as additional recommendations to amend the CAA to increase transparency and workforce protections. Some of the recommendations include:
Providing general whistleblower protections and anti-retaliation measures and making additional OSHA retaliation provisions applicable to the Legislative branch.
Providing subpoena authority to OCWR to conduct inspections and investigations into OSHA violations.
Prohibiting Legislative branch offices from making adverse employment decisions on the basis of an employee’s wage garnishment or involvement in bankruptcy proceedings.
Bolstering the CAA’s recordkeeping requirements.
In August 2022, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced legislation, the Congress Leads by Example Act of 2022 (H.R. 8743), that would put into effect recommendations from the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights. Del. Norton has introduced a version of this bill every Congress since 2011.
Congress should look to pass H.R. 8742 and the updated OCWR regulations during the lame duck period.
“At long last, no Member of the House of Representatives is permitted to pay their staff poverty wages. As of September 1, every staff person in the House of Representatives must be paid at least $45,000 a year, which meets the living wage in high cost Washington, DC,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress. “We applaud the House staff who have spoken out in support of a living wage for their colleagues, the Members of Congress who advocated for a pay floor, and Speaker Pelosi and House leadership for establishing this common-sense requirement that removes personal wealth as a precondition for public service. We urge the Senate to join the House and establish a $45,000 pay floor for all staff.”
The CPSA letter was signed by 150 current congressional staffers, while the letter led by the advocacy organization Demand Progress Action was signed by over 15 organizations.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Congressional Progressive Staff Association (CPSA) and Demand Progress Action sent two letters to Senator Pro-Tempore Patrick Leahy and Senate Leadership calling for the upper chamber to match the House’s commitment to paying their staff a minimum salary of $45,000 a year.
Following the release of CPSA’s survey data analyzing workplace conditions of over 500 staffers in both the House and Senate, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a pay floor of $45,000 for all congressional staffers in the House. This will officially become House policy on September 1st, but thousands of staffers in the Senate will still be making less than $45,000 a year without further action from Senate Leadership.
Writing as the “staffers who make up the fabric of your offices,” the signers of the letter say that “establishing a minimum salary floor of $45,000 for Senate staff would be a welcome change for the staffers who commit their lives to this institution. Like House staffers, Senate staff struggle to pay rent, bills, and keep food on the table.
Compensating Senate staff fairly would not only enable current staff to keep their heads above water while the cost of living rises across the country, but it would also open more doors in the halls of Congress to those who wish to make their country a better place.
Today, the House is marking a major milestone that will forever change the rights of staff as recently-approved Office of Workplace Rights regulations permitting unionization go into effect.
“Staff in the House of Representatives work long hours at low pay to meet the needs of the American people and we are pleased they will finally be able to enjoy a crucial right long available to workers across the country: the right to collectively organize to improve their working conditions,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress. “Providing House political and non-political staff the ability to join a labor union, an effort a quarter-century in the making, illustrates one avenue to transform the institution from within, as Congress’s ability to function well depends on a well-trained, expert staff devoted to making our democracy work for all. Additional work remains, including extending these labor rights to Senate political staff and some support agency staff currently excluded from collective bargaining laws.”
Demand Progress Education Fund hosted a virtual event on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, titled“The Power in Unions in Congress: Know Your Rights.” The event featured recorded remarks from Representative Andy Levin, lead sponsor of the House congressional unionization resolution.
Panelists helped clarify what rights and protections will be granted to congressional staffers, what will happen when staffers officially unionize their offices, and also discussed the history of the unionization movement in Congress.
How does unionization work in Congress? What’s the history behind this congressional unionization movement? What rights will be granted to me as a congressional employee?
There’s a lot of information — and misinformation — out there. With the July 18 deadline for the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights to implement the resolution that grants House staff the right to organize quickly approaching, Demand Progress Education Fund is convening several government labor experts to discuss various rights and protections offered to staff to empower congressional staff with the knowledge they need to successfully implement unions in the House of Representatives.
Join Demand Progress Education Fund for a virtual briefing that will include remarks from Representative Andy Levin and top government labor experts on making unions work in Congress. Panelists will clarify what rights and protections will be granted to congressional staffers, what will happen when staffers officially unionize their offices, and will also discuss the history of the unionization movement in Congress.