Washington — Staff in Democratic Rep. Andy Levin’s office have voted to unionize, becoming the first in Congress to do so, according to the Congressional Workers Union.
The vote last week was the first union election of a congressional office in U.S. history, the Congressional Workers Union said Monday. Staff for Democratic Reps. Ro Khanna and Ilhan Omar are also holding union elections this week.
“It is with great pride that we announce the landslide union election victory in Congressman Andy Levin’s office,” the Congressional Workers Union said in a statement. “While exercising their right to vote, workers clearly and emphatically expressed their desire to bargain collectively and have a seat at the table to determine workplace conditions and benefits. The CWU is ecstatic to support these workers as we go to the bargaining table and negotiates a contract representative for the needs of workers for the first time in congressional history.”
In a statement, Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, said he was “proud of their bravery and initiative” and “see[s] to negotiate a fair contract with the Congressional Workers Union.”
Levin introduced a successful bill to allow domestic workers to form unions and bargain collectivelyin May. As early as 1995, Congress had approved a framework for employees to organize into unions, but had not followed through to adopt a formal set of rules allowing employees to begin the process.
Unionization is considered office by office, and only House employees, not the Senate, can organize. Union workers are also limited in negotiating wages.
Earlier this year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a $45,000 minimum wage for House staff. There had previously been no minimum wage.
Entry-level staffers on Capitol Hill are notoriously underpaid in an area with a high cost of living, a dynamic that often prevents young people who don’t come from wealthy families from working on the Hill. The lower salaries make congressional staffers less diverse than the American population as a whole, and may lead experienced staffers to leave the Hill for the private sector, taking institutional knowledge with them.