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Progressive group pressures congressional office on staff unionization rule

Progressive organization, Demand Progress Education Fund (DPEF), pushed for congressional staffers to unionize in a recent report.

Last year, the House of Representatives voted to allow House staff members to unionize, a decision which was lauded by labor unions such as the Congressional Workers Union (CWU). The CWU called the vote “a historic moment for thousands of congressional workers.”

But last year’s vote was overturned by the current Congress in January of 2023, when they passed a rule which negated the congressional staffer unionization resolution from last year.

DPEF claimed in its new report that the rules package negating staffer unionization is invalid. Kevin Mulshine, identified in the letter as a former union steward at the National Labor Relations Board General Counsel, alleged that this year’s House of Representatives’ rules package “likely will fail as an unlawful and ineffective act” to prevent congressional staffers from unionizing. The report called on the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights (OCWR), to allow congressional staffers to unionize, claiming recent efforts to prevent unionization are illegal. OCWR has not publicly commented on staffer unionization or the report.

DPEF, which lists “areas of focus” on its website as “internet freedom, human & civil rights, corporate power, and democracy & open government”, has ties to the organization Sixteen Thirty Fund, a progressive group that spends money to boost progressive causes and Democratic candidates. The fund received several donations from Big Labor in 2021, such as $50,000 from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), $35,000 from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and $350,000 from the National Education Association (NEA).

DPEF initially began as a project of the New Venture Fund, which works with another progressive group called Arabella Advisors, a group also involved with the Sixteen Thirty Fund. Adding to the labyrinth of progressive organizations, Demand Progress Education Fund’s sister organization, Demand Progress Action, began as a project under the Sixteen Thirty Fund.

“Capitol Hill staffers’ unionization attempts are not about worker’s rights but building political power and political capital,” said Brigette Herbst, AFFT organizing director, “Unions today are a far cry from unions in the past because they care more about organizing ‘elite’ employees, such as university graduate students or Capitol Hill staffers, than taking care of blue-collar basic concerns.  It’s just a new money grab from worker paychecks for union bosses to siphon to politicians.”

“As with all public employees, when Capitol Hill staffers unionize, then they will directly negotiate collective bargaining agreements with the politicians that they work for and help elect,” she added, “how is this not a conflict-of-interest and a breach of public trust?”

Big Labor’s involvement with progressive organizations, like DPEF and the Sixteen Thirty Fund, highlights the intricate web of advocacy, lobbying, or other methods to pressure government agencies to side with them on policy issues.

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.