Nearly two years after “a handful of Hill staffers…[began] whispering about unionizing,” staffers employed by eight Democratic House of Representative lawmakers, filed petitions to unionize on Monday, The Hill reported. This marks the first time a unionization effort by these legislative employees has moved forward thus far in our nation’s history.
The 85 staffers work in the offices of Reps. Cori Bush (D-MO), Jesús García (D-IL), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Andy Levin (D-MI), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Melanie Stansbury (D-NM), and they all joined together to petition the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights (OCWR).
This has been a long road for legislative staffers seeking representation, as initially Congress was exempted from its own legislation wherein “federal labor law protects most U.S. employees’ labor-organizing activities.” But with a little help from social media, their efforts gained momentum when the @dear_white_staffers Instagram account by staffers of color, created earlier this year, transformed into what Times called a “Capitol Hill Gossip Girl of sorts: sharing anonymous, first-person accounts of lawmakers treating staff poorly to 80,000-plus followers and capturing the media spotlight.”
While the Instagram account is unaffiliated with the unionization organizing efforts, a reporter referencing the account queried Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi about whether or not she would be in support of a union for Congressional staffers. When Pelosi answered in the affirmative, organizers were able to capitalize on the moment.
In February of this year, Rep. Levin introduced a resolution “that would give staffers the legal protection to unionize and participate in collective bargaining,” and “[i]n May, the House approved that measure along party lines, with all present Republicans voting in opposition.”
The Congressional resolution officially went into effect this Monday, which provides a legal shield for those staffers electing to join the movement. One organizer who wishes to remain anonymous told TIME, “[n]one of us thought that this would happen at the pace that it is.”
Upon filing the petition, the Congressional Workers Union released a statement, “July 18 will go down as a historic day for congressional staff and our democracy—marking the day our protected rights to organize and bargain collectively go into full effect.”
“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,” the statement continued. “Having a seat at the bargaining table through a union will ensure we have a voice in decisions that impact our workplace.”
Rep. Levin, the original sponsor of the Resolution which went into effect, also put out a statement, saying that he is so proud of the staffers who participated in the historic move.
“I am incredibly humbled and honored to have played a modest role in helping realize the hard work of congressional staff who fought to make this,” he said. “As a former union organizer and someone who spent decades in the labor movement, I know how important it is to keep the spotlight focused on the people today is truly about: the workers…It is the workers who ensure that this institution – the bedrock of our fragile and precious democracy – operates efficiently and serves the American people here in the Capitol and in every corner of our nation.”