By Joseph Nichols, Staff Writer
Workers for Michigan’s ninth district representative, Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Township), voted unanimously to unionize, marking the first congressional staff union on Sept. 26.
Levin released a statement commenting on his staffers’ efforts: “Today, my staff became the very first in the 233 year history of the U.S. Congress to form a union. I’m proud of their bravery and initiative, and I look forward to bargaining a just contract with the Congressional Workers Union.”
The decision to unionize comes after a resolution to give congressional staff the right to collectively bargain. The resolution went into effect July 18 and since that date, the Congressional Workers Union (CWU) has begun working with a staff of seven other representatives.
“To better serve the public and improve working conditions, congressional staff are organizing to secure fair pay, safer workplaces and dignity on the job,” the mission statement of the CWU reads.
CWU leaders cite salary and work conditions as their most immediate needs to address.
“Mostly what I’ve heard is around pay… I’ve heard people talk about how when they first start out, you’re not necessarily making enough to pay your rent and have a life, or you have to get a second job, which is really hard when you’re expected to work long hours,” Natasha Rice, member of the CWU, stated.
While NPR reports increased salary and decreased working hours as the union’s paramount goal, CWU leaders added that there were other reasons for unionizing, such as “’harassment and hostility’ to staff due to protected characteristics including race, sexuality and religion.”
While Levin stated in a press release that he was pleased with the efforts of the CWU, he stated that the Senate staff workers are not able to unionize. Although some attempts have been made, none have gained as much traction as the CWU has.
However, the CWU has reached out to Senate cafeteria workers as well as employees of the Library of Congress. Those workers are unionizing with Unite Here, a labor union operating out of the United States and Canada that focuses on the rights of staff in the hospitality industry.
“We want them to know that we have their back no matter what, and that our solidarity extends to them in DC and everywhere else that Unite Here workers are working,” CWU President Philip Bennett said.
Although the CWU is only legally able to collectively bargain for staffers of representatives, their statement of unity with Senate staffers suggests that staff working for senators may similarly receive the right to unionize.