Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News
Democrats’ commitment to labor unions is about to be tested as close to home as possible. This week, staffers from eight House Democrats began the process of unionizing, a first-of-its-kind effort on Capitol Hill.
As first reported by The Hill, staff members from the offices of Squad members Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), as well as Jesús García (D-Ill.), Andy Levin (D-Mich.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), and Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.), have petitioned to unionize.
“July 18 will go down as a historic day for congressional staff and our democracy—marking the day our protected rights to organize and bargain collectively go into full effect,” the Congressional Workers Union said in a statement. The group added, “After several months of organizing to establish these protections for House staff, we join 85 congressional workers in taking the next step in our organizing drive by filing for a union election in 8 offices in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
Levin would seem to be a likely candidate to support the effort. He pushed for the creation of a law that granted congressional staffers the legal protections necessary to seek unionization.
That law went into effect Monday, and the petitions followed shortly thereafter.
“House staffers bravely stepped up, despite potential backlash and interference, to make clear that they want what every working person in this country & in this world deserves: a voice in what happens in their own workplace,” Levin tweeted Tuesday. “Congratulations, @Congress_Union! I’m so proud of you.”
House staffers bravely stepped up, despite potential backlash and interference, to make clear that they want what every working person in this country & in this world deserves: a voice in what happens in their own workplace. Congratulations, @Congress_Union! I'm so proud of you. pic.twitter.com/ssFOM6RXp1
— Rep. Andy Levin (@RepAndyLevin) July 19, 2022
Omar also welcomed the news.
“As a former union member, I’m incredibly proud of the staffers in my Congressional office who took steps to start the process of unionization,” Omar said in a statement. “Every worker deserves a living wage and a union, including in the halls of Congress. None of the work we do in Congress would be possible without our tireless staff. I know the power that workers wield when they exercise their right to organize and form a union. I won’t stop fighting for every worker in our country to have a $15+ minimum wage, paid leave, and a union. Solidarity forever!”
It remains to be seen just how the union effort plays out, and what demands the staffers will eventually make if their union comes to fruition. For the congresspeople, effectively the ownership group in this scenario, stating support of and acquiescing to employees are not mutually inclusive.
History, both distant and recent, is replete with examples of companies supporting workers’ rights to unionize while fighting to prevent the unionization from even occurring, much less giving into worker demands.
Ocasio-Cortez, who like Levin was arrested in an obvious stunt in Washington on Tuesday, has been frequently criticized for giving lip service to workers right issues, yet failing to substantively support unionization efforts in her own city.
Most notably, her labor credentials were called into question when she was lukewarm on a burgeoning Amazon union on Staten Island.
Ocasio-Cortez, who began rallying in-person with Amazon workers only after backlash, has not yet addressed the issue of her employees demanding better pay and working conditions.
Whatever trials await the congressional unionization effort, it is certain that the employees will enjoy no support from Republicans, who uniformly opposed Levin’s law that made the unionization possible.
In May, when the new law was approved, Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), the ranking member on the House Administration Committee, told The Hill, “While unions play a vital role in many workplaces, including throughout my district, they just aren’t feasible for Congress.”