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House votes to allow congressional staffers to unionize

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Friday that the House will vote next week on a resolution allowing congressional staffers to unionize. Here, Pelosi takes questions at a news conference on April 29.
Jacquelyn Martin
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Friday that the House will vote next week on a resolution allowing congressional staffers to unionize. Here, Pelosi takes questions at a news conference on April 29.

Updated May 11, 2022 at 11:06 AM ET

The House of Representatives voted 217-202 on Tuesday on a resolution that recognizes congressional workers' right to unionize. The vote was straight down party lines, with every Republican in the House opposing the measure.

"Tonight is a reminder of the power of collective action and what the freedom to form a union truly means — democracy not just for our elections but in our workplaces too," the Congressional Workers Union said in a statement.

After months of organizing from the Congressional Workers Union, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement last Friday that the chamber would finally put the measure to a vote.

"Congressional staffers deserve the same fundamental rights and protections as workers all across the country, including the right to bargain collectively," Pelosi said in the statement.

The measure was introduced by Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich. and had 165 House co-sponsors.

It is unlikely that the same resolution will pass in the Senate. But House staffers will still be able to unionize. That's because the Congressional Accountability Act allows legislative branch staffers to organize and form a union. Regulations were issued to implement the labor provisions of that 1995 law, but they aren't effective until lawmakers take the final step of formally agreeing to them.

The House speaker on Friday also said that minimum annual pay for staffers in the House would be set at $45,000 starting Sept. 1.

"With a competitive minimum salary, the House will better be able to retain and recruit excellent, diverse talent. Doing so will open the doors to public service for those who may not have been able to afford to do so in the past," Pelosi said.

"This is also an issue of fairness, as many of the youngest staffers working the longest hours often earn the lowest salaries."

The Congressional Workers Union has been pressing for a vote

The House's decision came weeks after more pressure from the Congressional Workers Union, which formally launched in February, to put the resolution to a vote.

"Many of us write and work tirelessly to advance the very laws that protect and promote every worker's right to organize. We deserve those same rights—Congress should not be above the laws it creates," the Congressional Workers Union wrote in a letter to House leaders last month.

The union asked leadership to schedule a vote during the last week of April, saying that House Democrats must lead by example, but the deadline wasn't met.

The union says that working conditions and burnout on the Hill have only gotten worse during the coronavirus pandemic and after last year's Jan. 6 insurrection.

For years, studies have shown that some junior congressional staffers aren't even paid a living wage for Washington, D.C., leading some staffers to take on second jobs. Reports also show a sizable gender pay gap.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.

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