Nationwide push for unions expands to Capitol Hill after House votes to allow staffers to unionize

WASHINGTON D.C. (CBS NEWS) — For a decade, working on Capitol Hill seemed like a dream job for Rich Luchette. But he knew it was something he couldn’t continue doing for long.

“Every day, you come to work in the Capitol. You’re working in a living museum at the same time in my first job, I made $33K. I was living in an apartment with college friends. It wasn’t uncommon to get a meal at 7-11,” he told CBS News Nikole Killion.

He finally reached his breaking point shortly after he worked during the January 6 insurrection.

“Working long hours, working through COVID-19 and then on top of that the January 6 insurrection — it just got to a point where I enjoyed my time here but it was time for me to go,” he said.

Luchette wasn’t the only one to leave. Last year, turnover among House staffers reached its highest rate in at least 20 years. A recent report found roughly one in eight congressional staffers make less than a living wage.

The House passed a resolution Tuesday night allowing congressional staff to unionize. House staffers will be able to join a union, if they choose, but it isn’t a requirement under the resolution.

“It’s a really big deal to say just as a matter of law, you, staffers of Capitol Hill have the right to form a union,” said Michigan Rep. Andy Levin, who introduced the measure.

It comes amid a reinvigorated movement over labor rights as workers take on some of the biggest corporations in the country, including Amazon and Starbucks.

Despite new benefits incentives from Starbucks, employees have conducted union drives at over 200 stores.

This spring, Amazon workers established the first union in the online retailer’s nearly 28-year history at a warehouse in Staten Island. But the push for unionization is drawing attention and scrutiny from some Republican lawmakers.

Christian Smalls, the president of the Amazon Labor Union, believes unions don’t involve a specific political party at all.

“It’s not a Democrat or Republican thing. It’s a workers thing,” Smalls said.

For Luchette, the action by Congress is an important opportunity he wishes he had years ago.

“If you’re asking do I wish I had been a union member 10 years ago when I was making 33,000 a year? Absolutely… There’s a recognition that people who work hard should be able to provide for themselves,” he said.

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