Updated May 10, 2022 - News

Hill staffers this week could gain the ability to unionize

Hill staffers wait in a hallway. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Hill staffers wait in a hallway. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Staffers in the House of Representatives may soon have the ability to unionize, a win for workers who have been speaking out about low pay and long hours.

Why it matters: The 9,000 staffers who work on Capitol Hill lack the basic federal legal protections other workers have when organizing, such as protection from retaliation. This resolution would extend those protections to staffers.

Of note: If passed, the resolution would only apply to the House. The Senate would need to introduce its own measure.

Between the lines: Roughly half the staffers in congressional offices said they are struggling to pay their bills yet work between 50-60 hours a week, according to a January survey by a group of progressive staffers.

  • 91% said they wanted more protections to give themselves a voice at work.
  • Meanwhile, turnover among House staffers is at its highest point in decades.

Yes, but: The resolution would not allow staffers to negotiate on salary and benefits, according to a senior Democratic aide.

  • Additionally, each congressional office would operate as its own bargaining unit.

In a letter to the House on Friday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the minimum pay rate for staffers would increase to $45,000 starting Sept. 1.

What they’re saying: One Democratic House aide who has been on the Hill for five years and who did not have permission from his boss to speak on the topic, told Axios that he is most excited about the new pay floor.

When he first started on the Hill, he made $35,000 and lived in D.C. with family. He says that increasing equity on the Hill, either through minimum salaries or more protections for staffers, keeps passionate Hill staffers in their jobs.

  • “I love working up here because I work for my community,” he says. “My boss represents my hometown.”

Another Democratic aide also praised the pay raise, calling it "a shift of wealth towards the staffers that have the least in Congress," which are often, he says, young people of color and women.

  • He also called the pay floor and upcoming resolution a shift in the value of workers in Congress. It wasn't until 2018 that Congress began allocating funds to pay its interns, he pointed out, and now salaries for staffers are being raised.

What to watch: A vote is likely to take place Tuesday or Wednesday.

  • The resolution is co-sponsored exclusively by 165 Democrats in a Democratic-controlled House, but would need a simple majority to pass.
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