Dem lawmakers suddenly realize they should probably pay their staff a living wage

Nancy Pelosi announced a new $45,000 minimum staff salary — and added that the House will vote on their right to unionize.

RZESZOW, POLAND - MAY 01: US Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi together with a congressional delega...
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Congressional staffers are the lifeblood of the nation’s capital. While Washington, D.C.’s bevy of senators and congresspeople get all the headlines, sound bites, and general glory, it’s their overworked, under-appreciated employees who pull the late nights and early mornings to ensure their bosses seem reasonably competent when the spotlight is on them. And now, finally, in the year 2022, those same staffers are actually getting a modicum of their long-overdue due, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announcing a new minimum wage for congressional staffers, to begin this coming September.

“I am pleased to announce that ... the House will for the first time ever set the minimum annual pay for staff at $45,000,” Pelosi wrote in a “Dear Colleagues” letter to the House on Friday. “The deadline to implement this new Pay Order is Sept. 1, 2022, and additional guidance is forthcoming.”

“With a competitive minimum salary, the House will better be able to retain and recruit excellent, diverse talent,” she continued. “Doing so will open the doors to public service for those who may not have been able to afford to do so in the past. This is also an issue of fairness, as many of the youngest staffers working the longest hours often earn the lowest salaries.”

Perhaps even more importantly, Pelosi also announced that the House would be voting on Democratic Rep. Andy Levin’s proposed resolution, introduced this past March, to allow House staffers to unionize. “Congressional staffers deserve the same fundamental rights and protections as workers all across the country, including the right to bargain collectively,” Pelosi said in her letter.

The unionization vote — scheduled for next week — comes just months after Democratic National Committee staffers voted overwhelmingly to unionize, a decision the DNC management accepted without sending the matter to independent arbitration. News of the vote was welcomed by the nascent congressional staffers union, who wrote in a statement that “next week, the credibility of lawmakers will be put to the test.”

As Pelosi said in her letter, raising the pay floor for House staffers and allowing them to unionize is part of an effort to “recognize the important contribution that congressional staff makes to fulfilling our legislative and constituent responsibilities.” And while both moves are certainly welcome and overdue (staff unionization was first raised in Congress more than 25 years ago), it’s still worth noting that D.C. is regularly ranked as one of the top five most expensive American cities in which to live, and a $45,000 minimum salary, while an improvement on the $30,000-40,000 range currently in effect, is still woefully inadequate.