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Has collective bargaining come to Congress?

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Clouds hang over the U.S. Capitol as senators complete the last votes of the week on September 23, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Pay and hours are at the core of the unionization efforts. Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images

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Starbucks, Amazon and now … Congress? For the first time, staffers in the House of Representatives will be allowed to unionize, following a vote narrowly passed by Democrats. The Senate has yet to approve a similar proposal.

Tim LaPira recalls two constants about being a staffer in Congress in the late ’90s.

“Needing to be responsive at all times, and being barely able to pay the rent,” he said.  

Now a professor at James Madison University, LaPira made about $30,000 back then, which is what some junior staffers are making now.  

Low pay and long hours have driven some congressional staff to try to unionize. LaPira said the ability to negotiate for higher pay could help slow a problematic revolving door for staffers.

“Typically what they’re going to do is work on the Hill long enough in order to become a lobbyist,” he said.

Nick Penniman with good government group Issue One said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle know retaining talent is a big problem. But if the GOP takes control of the House this November?

“One of the first things Republican majority will probably do is repeal the ability for the staff to unionize,” he said.

That could leave staffers right where they were before … waiting for a bipartisan solution.

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