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How to make Congress worse

Representative Andy Levin holds a press conference on the right of members of Congress to organize a union in Washington DC on May 11.


Bill Clark/Zuma Press

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

The House voted 217 to 202 on Tuesday on a resolution sponsored by Michigan Rep. Andy Levin to allow collective bargaining. Congress has long rejected the idea, but progressives see it as part of their “fairness” agenda.

The union push was fueled this year by an anonymous Instagram account titled “Dear White Staffers”, containing complaints about discrimination, wages and working conditions. A group calling itself the Congressional Workers Union has stepped up to promote the campaign, although its members insist on anonymity.

The Levin resolution allows for a broad right to organize, while dodging questions about how it will work in practice. The Chamber has 435 offices with 9,100 employees, an average of 21 employees per Member. Each office should hold its own union vote in the context of rapid employee turnover. Most Republican offices will accept a pass, and even Democratic offices can vote no, resulting in a patchwork of working rules across the Capitol.

Will a bargaining unit include all of each member’s staff, or will home state office workers be able to form their own? Will the offices form unions from scratch or join one of the other 100 unions currently representing federal employees? Should senior managers belong to the same union as junior employees, and who decides who is superior? Federal law prohibits workers in “management” or “supervisory” positions from collective bargaining.

Staff are supposed to promote the MPs’ agenda, but unionization could put them in a labor-management dispute. With their access to confidential legislative information, staff members working on a union agenda could also have influence over elected representatives. Prepare for unfair labor complaints that will become political weapons.

Congress has a problem with staff turnover because salaries have failed to keep pace with inflation over the past 20 years. But the March Congressional omnibus included a 21% increase for MPs’ office budgets. Most reps intended to turn that into better compensation even before Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week announced a minimum wage threshold of $45,000 a year for staff and a higher cap ($203,700). $) for the maximum annual salary.

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 anyway. Republicans will likely repeal the resolution if they return to the House in November. But instead of unionization, how about this: lay off about half the staff but better pay the rest. Congress could attract better people who stay for a while rather than leaving as soon as they can for the riches of K Street.

Bottom line and outlook: The administration’s new Disinformation Governance Council is likely to foster greater public distrust. Images: AFP/Express/Getty Images/AP Composite: Mark Kelly

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