- The Washington Times
Tuesday, May 10, 2022

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed through legislation along party lines on Tuesday allowing House staff to unionize, although it remains uncertain whether the effort will succeed.

The California Democrat passed the measure using a special legislative procedure that tied it to an emergency $40 billion military and humanitarian aid package for Ukraine. 

Officially, lawmakers passed the union measure when they voted for a rule to begin debate on the aid bill.

The measure passed along party lines, with 217 Democrats voting in favor and 202 Republicans opposed.

“Let tomorrow be the dawn of a new era of worker voice and power in the people’s House,” said Rep. Andy Levin, a Michigan Democrat who led the charge in favor of unionization.

The vote allows House staffers to immediately begin forming a union, but the path forward is uncertain. Congressional offices function as individual entities with members setting their own individual workplace policies. Even advocates say that the congressional union will only have power over offices that choose to recognize its existence and allow their staff to join.

Republicans say that reality is something that champions of the union will have to contend with immediately.

“Not only do most congressional staff already have the benefits most unions fight for … [unionization] would create serious problems and lead to even more dysfunction in Washington,” said Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois, the top Republican on the House Administration Committee. “Congress’ unique office structure, fluctuating partisan balance, unpredictable schedule changes, and unavoidable turnover due to elections make unions impractical in our offices and committees.”

There is also significant uncertainty about whether the union will survive if Republicans retake the House this cycle, as most political strategists expect. GOP lawmakers can easily pass a resolution next year curtailing the ability of staff to unionize.

A vote on a similar resolution in the Senate is likely to be tenuous if lawmakers have to abide by the chamber’s 60-vote filibuster threshold. Apart from some tax and spending measures, most legislation has to adhere to the rule to become law.

Since the Senate is split 50-50 between the two parties, the enabling resolution would require the support of at least 10 Republicans along with all 50 Democrats. Advocates of unionizing Senate staffers are exploring whether the resolution could pass via a simple majority.

But the push to unionize on Capitol Hill dovetails with a similar push to organize campaign staffers working for Democratic candidates and elected officials. Since the 2020 Democratic primaries, the number of Democratic candidates with unionized campaign staff has grown significantly.

The House vote enabling staff to unionize came the same day that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) announced its employees were forming a union.

“We are eager to meet at the bargaining table, roll up our sleeves, and secure a contract to guarantee the DCCC is the best place to work in Democratic politics for all current and future staff,” said Jacob Haythorn, a representative for the DCCC union. 

• Haris Alic can be reached at halic@washingtontimes.com.

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