“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.”
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.”
• At the time of writing, we do not know the motives of the assailant. However, it would not be surprising if the ultimate aim was to harm Speaker Pelosi. In this newsletter we have previously discussed the concept of stochastic terrorism, which is “the public demonization of a person or group resulting in the incitement of a violent act, which is statistically probable but whose specifics cannot be predicted.” We condemn all acts of violence, and incitement to violence, against elected officials and their families. We wish Paul Pelosi a speedy and full recovery.
• Political violence is sometimes used as a reason to overreach and curtail political speech. We acknowledge the importance of allowing for criticism of the policies advanced by a politician. Bad political actors have demonstrated a remarkable facility with the use of dog whistles, however. They generate veiled calls for or support of violence that increases the likelihood of violence in such a way as to create some doubt about what they are doing. The traditional media has largely been unable or unwilling to cover this appropriately, and partisan media and partisan actors have amplified these calls.
• We wonder about the role of the extraordinarily well-funded U.S. Capitol Police in this incident. It seems plausible that one of their most visible protectees was a target regardless of whether she was actually present. What does it say about security for other Members of Congress in their homes, workplaces, and elsewhere? What does it say about the USCP’s ability to detect, deter, and address threats? We stand by our concerns that structural problems with the leadership and oversight of the USCP create a fundamental risk to the safety of Congress, a problem that cannot be resolved by throwing money at the problem. We have yet to see any real reforms at the USCP or its oversight board.
• We realize that Congress’s most likely reaction will be to shovel more money at the Capitol Police. The overall funding level for the Legislative branch can’t handle these hundred-million-dollar annual increases for the USCP without undercutting the ability of the Legislative branch to function by constraining funds for all other purposes. (There’s a $100 million increase in the works when the delayed appropriations bill becomes law.) We’d suggest that some of the USCP’s funds start coming from another appropriations subcommittee, like Defense or CJS, because their work includes responding to terrorism and crime threats.
Our continuously updated tracker lets you monitor the unionization movement in Congress, including which House offices are unionizing, which members of Congress supported the PRO Act and the resolution allowing House staff to collectively bargain without fear of retaliation, and more.
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.
The House Administration Committee held a hearing on Congressional unionization on Wednesday, March 2, 2022. Congress approved legislation providing for unions a quarter-century ago and the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights (OCWR) promulgated regulations on how unionization would work at the time, but tricky language in that law requires the House to act (by a resolution) to implement labor protections for certain political and non-political staff. The hearing focused on whether the unionization regulation should be put into effect.
Witnesses included OCWR General Counsel John Uelman, who was there as an expert witness to explain how all this might work, as well as Mark Strand, who represented the conservative Congressional Institute in opposition to unionization. Demand Progress submitted this statement providing a history of how we got here, and Rep. Levin submitted a statement explaining why the time for unionization is now. In addition, a coalition of 78 organizations called on the House to protect staff’s right to unionize immediately in a letter to House leadership timed to coincide with the hearing. We’ve got the witness statements, video, and everything else you could want on the topic here.
In sum, Uelman said the current OCWR Board unanimously supports the 1996 regulations and “urges Congress to approve these regulations.” More than 160 members of Congress have cosponsored Rep. Levin’s resolution. Following the hearing, the Congressional Workers Union released a statement in support of immediate adoption of the 1996 regulations; it’s available here. RollCall and BGov have good summaries of the hearing.