WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a resolution that will pave the way for congressional workers to join a union and participate in collective bargaining, a move proponents say will improve the ability of workers from low- and middle-income families would have to make ends meet in a region with high housing costs.
Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., supported the resolution. He said giving workers more say over working conditions and pay would result in lower turnover and make Congress a more effective institution. He also cited the ability to unionize as an equity issue, since many people cannot afford to consider a job in Washington because the cost of housing is so high.
“They don’t want only children of privileged people to be able to work here because their family can support them in some way,” Levin said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also addressed the salary issue by recently setting an annual minimum salary for House staffers at $45,000. According to the House Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the average salary for employees working for a single legislature was $50,000 last year.
“By empowering employees to stand up for themselves and each other, we are taking an important step in ensuring the House can best serve the American people,” Pelosi said.
The legislature determines the payment of their helpers. The money comes from an allowance made available to each member to cover rent, equipment, salaries and other expenses incurred in the performance of their official duties.
Collective bargaining would take place at the level of employment offices, meaning it would be conducted separately between Members and House Committees and their staff. There will be no single tariff unit covering most or all domestic workers.
Congress passed legislation in 1996 that gave the green light to other workers on Capitol Hill to unionize, including the US Capitol Police, the Library of Congress, and the Architect of the Capitol. Tuesday’s vote will allow a board to pass regulations to set out congressional workers’ rights to collective bargaining. The decision applies only to house offices.
Republicans largely reject the measure. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said he doubted many employees in the GOP offices would choose to join a union, calling it unnecessary.
The House voted to pass the resolution as part of a measure to set rules for the debate on aid to Ukraine. He said the Democrats’ unwillingness to introduce and vote on the resolution separately, and based on their own merits, suggests that not all Democrats were on board.
“It seems to me more symbolic than material,” said Cole.
A group called the Congressional Workers Union tweeted after the vote that it was a historic moment for thousands of workers.
“For 26 years, Congress has had the opportunity to pass this resolution, but did not act until our collective demands were too loud for them to ignore,” the group said.
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