From the Factory Floors to the Halls of Congress, the Call for Unionization is Growing

Gina Kelley
March 2, 2022

After decades of inadequate labor laws and declining union membership, the labor movement is gaining traction. Initially titled “Striketober”, the swell of strikes and contract negotiations have finally reached Capitol Hill.

Sparked by the viral anonymous Instagram account “Dear White Staffers” which shares horror stories of working in Congress, the call for labor reform is in the halls of the Capitol. The account calls specific attention to the obstacles faced by people of color on the Hill. Congress has not escaped the pay and treatment disparities that harm people of color across the country.

Studies have shown that white staffers make about 8% more than Black staffers because Black staffers are rarely hired into high-level positions. The account has become a megaphone for what was previously one of the worst kept secrets in Washington: Working on the Hill often means low pay, poor treatment or harassment, and burnout.

The folks who answer the call of public service in the efforts of committing themselves to the common good. They choose this occupation with hopes and ambition of working hard and making a difference. Instead, the broken system inside the Capitol spits many of them back out into the private sector, where they can make more money on a normal schedule.

Staffers on both sides of the aisle call out the hypocrisy of their employment practices. Republican legislators wage war against subsidies but pay their employees so little they have no choice but to utilize food stamps and Medicare. In contrast, Democratic lawmakers promote progressive labor policies and call for a celebration of diversity in the workplace but fail to implement equitable pay and hiring practices in their own offices. It seems dissatisfaction is bipartisan. One report of 516 respondents found 47% of staffers struggle to pay bills, 68% are unhappy with their compensation, and 85% believe Congress is a toxic work environment.

Congress currently operates with each office and committee run individually. This means there are more than 535 “employers” on the Hill with no unified hiring practices, paid leave policies, salary structures, or human resource departments. Even with previous legislative attempts to modernize Congress as a workplace, bills like the Congressional Accountability Act have failed to create adequate systems to support a safe and healthy work environment.

We work with Congressional offices to advance legislation that promotes the common good and we proudly support their efforts to unionize. In that commitment, we signed onto the Staffer’s letter to Congressional Leadership in support of their effort to unionize. Our commitment to equitable labor reform is a central part of our mission and is embodied in our efforts to pass key legislation like the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act and the Protecting the Right to Organize Act. We know that we cannot live out our faith and mission if we do not root ourselves in solidarity with workers and hear their lived experiences.

Despite statements of support from Democratic Leadership and the introduction of a Resolution by Representative Andy Levin, the future of a Congressional Union is unknown. What is clear is that the movement for workers’ rights is growing. From factory workers to television workers to congressional staffers the message is clear: Enough is enough.