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Congressional staffers launch organizing drive with backing from Democrats

Additionally, the cumulative impacts of the pandemic, increasing frequency of threats, and the Jan. 6 insurrection have fueled already endemic staff retention issues on Capitol Hill, as POLITICO has previously reported. A Progressive Congressional Staff Association report of 516 respondents found that 47% of staff struggle to pay their bills, 68% are unhappy with their pay, and 85% think Congress is a toxic work environment.

Union hopefuls received a major endorsement on Thursday when a spokesperson for the president Nancy Pelosi tweeted that Congressional staff have the “right to organize their workplace and unite in a union. If and when staffers choose to exercise this right, they will have the full support of Speaker Pelosi” .

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was also quick to back the push. “Chief Schumer believes hard-working Senate staff have the right to organize their workplaces and if they chose to do so, they would support this effort,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

Provisions of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, which would apply similar private sector employment laws to the Legislative Assembly, would allow unionization but have not been implemented. Personal office, committee, and executive employees lack unions, while Capitol Police, Library of Congress, and Government Accountability Office employees do.

Both houses could implement these changes on their own – the House could pass a resolution enacting it in its own chamber, and the same goes for the Senate. The resolution would not change the chambers’ rules, but would essentially activate regulations put in place in 1996 by the Congressional Labor Rights Office governing employee unionization, which have been dormant for more than a quarter of a century.

The resolution would likely come from the House Administration Committee, chaired by the Representative. Zoe Lofgren (D-California), herself a former Hill staffer.

Several House Democrats have indicated they would support staff members’ desire to unionize.

“At the request of the new union, next week we will take legislative action to grant congressional staff the freedom to form a union – a fundamental right of all workers,” Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) tweeted Friday.

Republican lawmakers, however, did not join those calls. The party has generally not supported efforts to facilitate union organizing in the private sector, enacting a slew of “right to work” laws across the country that make it easier for employees to opt out of unions. Last year, only five Republicans voted for a sprawling bill to strengthen union protections.