‘Today we are unionising the United States Congress’ says the Congressional Workers Union

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Massachusetts State House Employee Union campaign rally supporting the right of Congress staff to join a union

STAFF members of the US House of Representatives in Washington filed a petition for representation on Monday to form a union for the first time in the country’s history.

The Congressional Workers Union tweeted: ‘Today we are unionising the United States Congress.’

‘July 18 will go down as a historic day for congressional staff and our democracy – marking the day our protected rights to organise and bargain collectively go into full effect,’ the Congressional Workers Union (CWU) said in its statement after taking the next step in its organising drive by filing petitions for representation at the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights for the offices of Rep. Cori Bush (MO-01), Rep. Chuy Garcia (IL-04), Rep. Ro Khanna (CA-17), Rep. Andy Levin (MI-09), Rep. Ted Lieu (CA-33), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Rep. Ilhan Omar (MN-05), and Rep. Melanie Stansbury (NM-01).

The CWU wrote: ‘July 18 will go down as a historic day for congressional staff and our democracy – marking the day our protected rights to organise and bargain collectively go into full effect. After several months of organising to establish these protections for House staff, we join 85 congressional workers in taking the next step in our organising drive by filing for a union election in 8 offices in the US House of Representatives.

‘For far too long, congressional staff have dealt with unsafe working conditions, unlivable wages, and vast inequity in our workplaces that prevent Congress from properly representing the communities and needs of the American people. Having a seat at the bargaining table through a union will ensure we have a voice in decisions that impact our workplace.

‘From Amazon and Starbucks to the halls of Congress to state legislatures across our country, every worker deserves the protected right of freedom of association, joining together with their colleagues in solidarity to organise and bargain collectively for a better workplace. We are honoured to be welcomed with open arms by workers into a broader labour movement that is sweeping the nation.

‘We look forward to voting enthusiastically UNION YES in the coming weeks and sitting down at the bargaining table with our bosses.’

Congress originally granted bargaining rights to congressional staffers when it passed the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, but those rights could not be implemented without a further resolution.

Astonishingly, this process took another 27 years to complete.

In February of this year, Congressman Andy Levin (MI-09) introduced a House Resolution to finally grant those rights for House staffers.

The resolution, passed in May, was worded: ‘H.Res.915 – Approving certain regulations to implement provisions of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 relating to labour-management relations with respect to employees of the House of Representatives covered under section 220(e), and for other purposes.’

The House passed Congressman Levin’s resolution on May 10, 2022, triggering a 60-day interim  period, which ended on Monday, marking the first day bargaining rights are fully protected.

Levin released his own statement on the matter: ‘Today, Congressman Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Township), longtime union organiser and member of the House Education and Labour Committee and the House Labour Caucus, announced that the US House of Representatives adopted his resolution to grant congressional staff in the right to organise and bargain collectively, which was included in the rule for the Ukraine supplemental, by a vote of 217-202.

‘The passage of the House resolution is the final step required to grant legal protection to most congressional House employees. The Senate must pass its own resolution in order for Senate employees to have the same protections.

‘After 26 years, the House has finally provided its workers the fundamental human right to form a union without fear of retaliation. As someone who has spent decades in the labour movement and devoted their life to protecting and enhancing workers’ rights, this moment stands out as a major highlight,’ said Congressman Andy Levin.

‘Congressional staff are joining a broader movement of workers in our society who are organising, bargaining collectively and stepping up to make clear that they want more of a voice in their workplaces.

‘I’m so proud that Congressional Democrats upheld our values of believing in the collective voice today. If there is any place in the country that needs to walk the walk and respect the will of workers, it is the US Congress – the bedrock of democracy. We cannot stop fighting until every worker in the country can form a union without interference.’

Staffers who petitioned for union representation on Monday work for Levin and seven other representatives: Reps. Cori Bush, Chuy Garcia, Ro Khanna, Ted Lieu, Ilhan Omar, Melanie Stansbury, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

To unionise an office, a majority of the staff in that office must vote in favour of doing so.

The move comes as workers around the country have been making active efforts to unionise in a workers’ rights movement never quite seen before in the states.

Rep Ro Khanna (Democrat) of California’s 17th congressional district tweeted his response: ‘Today, members of my Congressional staff took steps to begin the process of unionising. I am a strong supporter of Rep. Andy Levin’s Resolution giving Congressional workers the right to unionise & was an original cosponsor.

‘We are seeing more & more workers across the country take brave steps to unionise & I’ve been supportive of their efforts every step of the way.’

Massachusetts senator Ed Markey was equally pleased: ‘Congress does not run without the work of dedicated staff. I am proud of the staffers who organised hard for this historic move to seek union recognition and am in solidarity with them, and all House and Senate workers, as they fight for their rights.’

Meanwhile, on the further issue of the right to abortion, which was effectively made illegal in the US after a recent Supreme Court ruling with extreme positions taken, the AFL-CIO made a statement last Friday on behalf of workers’ rights and defending access to critical care.

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler wrote on the passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) in the US House of Representatives:

‘We applaud the pro-worker majority in the House for passing the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) for a second time.

‘Over the past three weeks, we have begun to see the damage and the harm inflicted on working people and their families from the Supreme Court decision and the actions of extremist lawmakers.

‘WHPA would ensure that anyone who needs critical reproductive care, as well as their providers, are protected under federal law.

‘The labour movement stands behind every person’s right to control their own bodies and to make the decisions they need to stay healthy, safe and secure.

‘It is also hard to believe lawmakers are standing in the way of legislation that would protect the right to travel across state lines for care, a right recognised by the US Constitution and the Supreme Court.

‘Reproductive rights are workers’ rights, and we will not stand by as right-wing lawmakers and judges continue to attack our ability to come together to fight for the care and the benefits we deserve.

‘It’s past time for Republican leaders in the Senate to get out of the way of progress and do their duty to protect the freedoms of all working people.’

Congressman Andy Levin voted for the legislation and issued his own statement, which reveals some of the extreme positions and deep divisions opening up in American society:

‘Abortion rights are under attack by the right-wing, from the extremist Supreme Court majority to the anti-choice Republican Party, which has made clear it will stop at nothing to institute forced birth policies across the country. Our nation was founded on principles of freedom – that includes a person’s ability to make decisions about their own body, their own family and their own health care.

‘As a father of a seventeen-year-old daughter, I refuse to accept a future where she and so many others will not be able to seek abortions freely. This is a fight for all of us and we cannot give up until the job is done.’

The Women’s Health Protection Act is landmark legislation that ensures health care providers have a statutory right to provide abortion care and patients have a statutory right to receive that care, free from state bans and restrictions created to impede or block access.

The Ensuring Women’s Rights to Reproductive Freedom Act, which accompanies the WHPA protects Americans from extremist Republican politicians and anti-abortion groups by ensuring no person acting under state law can prevent, restrict, impede, or retaliate against a person travelling across state lines to obtain a lawful abortion.

This would include vigilantes who could be empowered by states to seek out a person for obtaining an abortion.

The AFL-CIO also published its annual report on Monday, revealing the widening divisions over pay in US society.

S&P 500 chief executives made $18.3 million on average in 2021, 324 times the pay of their median workers and higher than the ratio in 2020.

Corporate leaders’ raises far outpaced wage gains that failed to keep up with inflation, said the AFL-CIO.

‘It’s another version of more for them and less for us,’ said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond introducing the report.

The 2021 CEO-to-worker ratio in the S&P 500 was the widest since 2018, when the federation was first able to track the figure based on new disclosures. The ratio was 299-to-1 in 2020.

At the top of the income chasm between the rich and poor, Amazon.com Inc. CEO Andy Jassy’s total income package of $212.7 million last year was 6,474 times that of its median worker.

A spokesperson for Amazon said that Jassy’s compensation was ‘competitive with that of CEOs at other large companies’.

The highest paid CEO in the S&P 500 was Peter Kern of online travel company Expedia Group Inc., whose compensation totalled $296.2 million, according to the study.

An Expedia spokesperson noted that equity awards make up the bulk of the pay package and will not fully mature until at least 2026.

The federation found S&P 500 CEOs’ average pay rose 18% in 2021, while U.S. consumer prices rose 7%.

Other federal figures cited by the AFL-CIO show nominal worker wages rose 4.7% last year, but fell 2.4% adjusted for inflation.