Dem Staffers Unionize, Citing Poor Pay and Pervasive Sexual Harassment

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) / Getty Images
July 18, 2022

The Congressional Workers Union announced today eight Democratic offices will be the first to unionize.

"For far too long, congressional staff have dealt with unsafe working conditions, unlivable wages, and vast inequity in our workplaces," a Monday press release stated. "Having a seat at the bargaining table through a union will ensure we have a voice in decisions that impact our workplace." The Congressional Workers Union’s website says the unionization effort was prompted by "problematic work conditions," including insufficient pay, high turnover, and "pervasive" sexual harassment.

Eighty-five staffers from the offices of Reps. Cori Bush (D., Mo.), Chuy Garcia (D., Ill.), Ro Khanna (D., Calif.), Andy Levin (D., Mich.), Ted Lieu (D., Calif.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.), and Melanie Stansbury (D., N.M.) moved to join the new union.

Some of those members are multimillionaires. Lieu, a lawyer and real estate investor, has a reported 2018 net worth of $3.5 million, according to OpenSecrets. Levin owns an energy company and has a net worth of almost $3.95 million. The median salary for House staffers is $59,000.

Democrats hemorrhaged staff at a rate 24 percent higher than Republicans in 2021, the Hill reported in March.

A former chief of staff to Garcia resigned in 2019 following allegations that he laughed in the face of a female staffer after she disclosed she had been sexual harassed when both were working on Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I., Vt.) 2016 presidential campaign. Bush and Ocasio-Cortez both claim to have been victims of sexual harassment.

Levin led the charge to pass the resolution making congressional unionizing legal. The resolution passed in May, but a Senate version has yet to pass. Now, House staffers cannot be fired, demoted, or otherwise punished for unionizing, a development that opened the door for Monday’s announcement.

The union’s website says a few negotiation goals are more flexible telework options, comprehensive health and safety protocols, and improved severance policies. In April, after President Joe Biden urged Americans to return to in-person work during his State of the Union address, the Washington Free Beacon reported in March Democrats on Capitol Hill had failed to end their work-from-home policies, preferring to extend teleworking policies indefinitely.