Staff members at the Democratic National Committee in Washington have opted to organize a union for collective bargaining rights, party and union officials said Tuesday.
The move marks the first time a national party organization has become a union shop, despite Democrats’ long relationship with organized labor. The development also follows a presidential campaign during which several Democratic candidates’ campaign staffs, including that of President Joe Biden, formed unions.
Employees at DNC headquarters will “soon” be part of the Service Employees International Local 500, the union confirmed in a statement.
Neither party officials nor the union released details of the vote, but DNC officials cast the outcome as proof of its commitment to labor.
“As the DNC told SEIU, if a majority of DNC employees in a mutually agreed-upon bargaining unit express their desire to form a union, we will be proud to voluntarily recognize that union,” said Executive Director Sam Cornale in a statement.
One of the organizers, Christen Sparago, who works in the DNC’s fundraising office, called the union “an opportunity for the DNC to live its values” and said workers “are eager to begin negotiations” for an initial contract.
The SEIU local already represents public sector and not-for-profit sector workers in the nation’s capital and the surrounding Maryland suburbs.
Democrats’ 2020 platform pledges that the party will “make it easier for workers, public and private, to exercise their right to organize and join unions.” Biden, an ally of organized labor since his election to the Senate in 1972, pledged to be “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen.”
During the campaign, Biden’s field organizers joined Teamsters Local 238 and signed a contract with the campaign that included overtime pay beyond 40 hours per week and health insurance coverage with the campaign covering the entire premium, among other provisions.
In March, the House passed a sweeping overhaul of federal labor law designed to invigorate unions by making it easier to organize and harder for state laws to inhibit unions. The “PRO Act” passed 225-206 on a largely party line vote but has virtually no chance to clear the 50-50 Senate, where rules allow Republican opposition to block any bill that has support from fewer than 60 senators.
Democrats push for the most significant labor law change since the Great Depression comes after a decades-long slide in union membership. In 1970, almost a third of the U.S. workforce was unionized. In 2020, that number was 10.8%.