U.S. House of Representatives votes to let staff bargain collectively

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U.S. House of Representatives votes to let staff bargain collectively 

The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to allow staff to unionize and bargain collectively. 

About the resolution

Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) sponsored House Resolution 1096, which was introduced and passed on May 10. The House voted 217-202 along party lines to adopt the resolution. 

H.Res.1096 says: “The requirements and exemptions of [United States Code, Title 5, Chapter 71] as made applicable by section 220 of the [Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 (CAA)], shall apply to covered employees who are employed in the offices listed in section H2472.1 in the same manner and to the same extent as those requirements and exemptions are applied to other covered employees.” 

The employing offices listed in section H2472.1 of the resolution include “the personal office of any member of the House of Representatives or of any Senator,” “a standing select, special, permanent, temporary, or other committee of the Senate or House of Representatives,” and six other categories of offices. 

Part of the law to which section 220 of the CAA refers—United States Code, Title 5, Section 7102—says the following:

“Each employee shall have the right to form, join, or assist any labor organization, or to refrain from any such activity, freely and without fear of penalty or reprisal, and each employee shall be protected in the exercise of such right. Except as otherwise provided under this chapter, such right includes the right— (1) to act for a labor organization in the capacity of a representative and the right, in that capacity, to present the views of the labor organization to heads of agencies and other officials of the executive branch of the Government, the Congress, or other appropriate authorities, and (2) to engage in collective bargaining with respect to conditions of employment through representatives chosen by employees under this chapter.” 

The American Prospect’s Jarod Facundo wrote that the resolution would allow “nearly 10,000 House staffers to organize under the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act (CAA) … The resolution implements a provision of the CAA that’s been dormant for congressional staffers since 1996, when lawmakers allowed federal employees to unionize, but not their staffers.” According to CBS News’ Rebecca Kaplan and Kathryn Watson, “Congress approved the framework for Hill staffers to unionize … but never followed up by formally passing a set of regulations to allow staffers to begin the process.” 

An organization of staffers called the Congressional Workers Union, which says it has a “dedicated organizing committee that is focused on organizing Congress,” supported the resolution. Ahead of the vote, the group said, “With this vote, every member of Congress will have the opportunity to grant their own workers the right to organize and bargain collectively, free from retaliation. … We expect that every member who has stood up for workers’ rights will vote for our right to form a union.” A member of the group said, “We came to the Hill wanting to get involved in good public policy. … In personal offices [the pay] is devastatingly low, and there are stories of folks living in affordable housing struggling to make ends meet. And then on top of that, with wild hours, you have this burnout… [and] there’s so much incentive because of that burnout to go into lobbying work.” 

Vox’s Li Zhou wrote, “While CWU has gotten interest from Republican staffers … its work has predominantly been driven by Democratic ones.” 

According to the Associated Press’ Kevin Freking, “Collective bargaining would take place at the employing office level, which means that it will be done separately between members and House committees and their staffs. There will not be one bargaining unit covering most or all House employees.” Roll Call’s Chris Cioffi wrote, “For House staff, the future is in the hands of [the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights (OCWR)], which would certify and supervise the results of a secret ballot election for the ‘bargaining unit’ seeking to unionize. The vote would require a majority of an office’s staff to be in favor of a labor organization becoming their representative. … Staffers might face limits on what they could negotiate on benefits and wages unless new legislation changing those stipulations were passed.” 

A simple resolution affects only the operation of the chamber that initiated it. According to Congress.gov, “A matter concerning the rules, the operation, or the opinion of either House alone is initiated by a simple resolution. … Simple resolutions are considered only by the body in which they were introduced. Upon adoption, simple resolutions are attested to by the Clerk of the House of Representatives or the Secretary of the Senate and are published in the Congressional Record.” 

Perspectives

Support

The Congressional Workers Union said the vote was an “historic moment for thousands of congressional workers who have won basic labor protections to organize and bargain collectively without fear of retaliation. … For 26 years, Congress has had the opportunity to pass this resolution but has failed to act, until our collective demands were too loud for them to ignore. Tonight is a reminder of the power of collective action and what the freedom to form a union truly means — democracy not just in our elections, but in our workplaces too.”

Everett Kelley, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said, “Just three months after announcing their efforts to organize a union, House congressional staff have won an historic vote by the U.S. House that grants them the right to form a union and bargain over working conditions. … While there is much work to do before House staff can begin reaping the benefits of unionization, this is a historic achievement that paves the way for House staff to begin that process.”

Opposition 

Americans for Fair Treatment senior writer and researcher Suzanne Bates said, “This expansion on Capitol Hill is about unions building their political capital. It isn’t about the working class and what they need. … Can you imagine what union meddling could mean for a congressional committee or office?” 

Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) said, “Not only do most congressional staff already have the benefits most unions fight for … [unionization] would create serious problems and lead to even more dysfunction in Washington. … Congress’ unique office structure, fluctuating partisan balance, unpredictable schedule changes, and unavoidable turnover due to elections make unions impractical in our offices and committees.” 

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 142 pieces of legislation dealing with public-sector employee union policy. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking. 

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s) 

Recent legislative actions

Below is a complete list of relevant legislative actions taken since our last issue.

  • California AB2556: This bill would change the time frame for a local public agency employer to implement a final offer after a factfinders’ recommendation has been submitted in the case of a dispute between the employer and employee organization.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Read third time in Assembly, passed, ordered to Senate May 9. Read first time in Senate, referred to Senate Rules Committee for assignment May 10.
  • Colorado SB230: This bill would give county employees the right to organize and bargain collectively beginning in 2023.  
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Appropriations Committee amended, referred to House May 6. House second reading passed with amendments May 6. House third reading passed with amendments May 11. Senate concurred with House amendments and re-passed May 11.
  • Maine LD449: Existing law requires public employers and collective bargaining agents to meet within 10 days of receiving written notice of a request for a bargaining meeting. This only applies if the parties have not otherwise agreed in an earlier contract. This bill would eliminate that exception.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Enacted without the governor’s signature May 8.



About the author

Janie Valentine

Janie Valentine is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.