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How to Make Congress Worse

Rep. Andy Levin holds a news conference on the congressional staffers right to organize a union in Washington D.C, May 11.


Bill Clark/Zuma Press

Americans don’t like Congress, for many obvious reasons, and this week the received another one as the House voted to allow its staff to be represented by a union.

The House voted 217-202 on Tuesday on a resolution sponsored by Michigan Rep.

Andy Levin

to allow collective bargaining. Congress has long rejected this idea, but progressives consider it part of their “equity” agenda.

The union push was fueled this year by an anonymous Instagram account entitled “Dear White Staffers,” featuring complaints about discrimination, pay and working conditions. A group calling itself the Congressional Workers Union stepped up to promote the drive—though its members insist on anonymity.

The Levin resolution authorizes a broad right to organize, while dodging questions of how this will work in practice. The House has 435 offices with 9,100 staffers, or an average of 21 employees per Member. Each office would need to hold its own union vote amid rapid employee turnover. Most Republican offices will take a pass, and even Democratic offices may vote no—leading to a patchwork of work rules across the Capitol.

Will a bargaining unit include all staffers for each Member, or will workers in home state offices get to form their own? Will offices stand up unions from scratch or join one of the 100 other unions currently representing federal employees? Should senior staff be in the same union as junior employees, and who decides who is senior? Federal law prohibits workers in “management” or “supervisory” roles from collectively bargaining.

Staff are supposed to promote the agenda of Members, but unionization could put them in labor-management conflict. With their access to confidential legislative information, staffers working a union agenda could also have leverage over elected representatives. Get ready for unfair-labor complaints that will become political weapons.

Congress has a problem with staff turnover, since pay has failed over the past 20 years to keep pace with inflation. But Congress’s March omnibus included a 21% increase for Member’s office budgets. Most Representatives intended to plow that into better compensation even before Speaker

Nancy Pelosi

last week announced a minimum pay threshold of $45,000 a year for staff, and a higher cap ($203,700) for maximum annual pay.

Each house of Congress sets its own rules, so the House vote this week doesn’t apply to the Senate, where it likely wouldn’t pass in any case. Republicans will probably repeal the resolution if they retake the House in November. But instead of unionization, how about this: Fire about half the staff but pay the rest better. Congress might attract better people who stay a while rather than leave as soon as they can for K Street riches.

Review & Outlook: The Administration’s new Disinformation Governance Board is likely to promote more public mistrust. Images: AFP/Express/Getty Images/AP Composite: Mark Kelly

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