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Labor unions expand into legislator offices

The House of Representatives made waves last spring when it passed a resolution which allowed staffers to unionize. Ever since, the Congressional Workers Union (CWU) has been unionizing House Democrats’ office staff. The CWU lists allies on its website and social media accounts which include United Auto Workers, Teamsters, and American Federation of Government Employees as well as the union organizing group Starbucks Workers United.

In September of last year, staffers in Rep. Andy Levin’s (D-Mich.) office unanimously voted to join the CWU and became the first congressional office to do so. At the time, the CWU said, “It is with great pride we announce the landslide union election victory in Congressman Andy Levin’s office … workers clearly and emphatically expressed their desire to bargain collectively and have a seat at the table to determine workplace conditions and benefits.”

On December 22, 2022, Levin’s staffers voted to ratify “the first staff union contract in Congressional history.” The agreement created a salary floor of $55,000 for staff in offices in Michigan and Washington, D.C. and established policies on subjects like health and safety, union representational activities, and telework.

Yet, Levin’s unionized office will soon be out of work. Levin lost his primary election, and his office will close at the end of his term.

According to the CWU’s website, in addition to Levin’s office, the offices of Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin), Mark Takano (D-California), Ro Khanna (D-California), Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), and Chuy L. García (D-Illinois) have all voted to unionize with CWU. 

Additionally, petitions for unionization have been filed for the offices of Dina Titus (D-Nevada) and Sean Casten (D-Illinois).

“Unionizing staffers in legislative offices makes no sense because it creates more problems than it solves,” says Brigette Herbst, senior organizing director for AFFT and a former state legislative staffer, “How does unionization work with the long and unpredictable hours during a legislative session? How will elected officials handle untrustworthy staffers? Union organizers haven’t answered these important questions.”

Labor unions have also turned their focus to legislative staffers at the state level.

In New York, state legislative staff continue to push for higher pay and benefits while threatening to unionize. One social media account, @nyslegstaffers, tweets about fighting for higher pay for staffers in the state General Assembly and Senate. For example, one of their tweets proclaimed, “To all the candidates (and elected officials) out there wondering how you might avoid this [work stoppage] in the future: Pay us fair wages. Schedule us fair hours. Treat us with respect and have our backs when we are disrespected. Don’t forget who is really getting the work done for you.”

As AFFT reported last summer, additional unionization efforts are taking place in the state legislature in Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington, while social media accounts are highlighting similar efforts in Connecticut, Texas, New Jersey, Nevada, Illinois, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Washington, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Minnesota.

Spencer Irvine

Spencer Irvine is Senior Writer & Researcher at Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector employees offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Spencer previously worked in state government, in communications for a non-profit advocacy organization, and held various administrative and communications roles at a media analysis organization. He has a master’s degree in public administration from George Washington University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Brigham Young University. He lives in Arizona with his wife, is an avid history buff and enjoys touring historic sites.