Gabe Garbowit, a former Hill staffer for Senator Tina Smith, D-Minn, recently launched SenateUnionTracker.com to track union support or opposition of all 100 senators. Garbowit aims to get every senator on the record on two questions: would they support collective bargaining protections for Senate staff? And would they support their own staff unionizing? The website is an attempt to improve conditions for former compatriots still working in the Senate and those yet to join.
Collective bargaining protections refer to the legal right of employees to join together and negotiate with their employer regarding their working conditions, pay, and benefits. In the context of Senate staff, this would mean that the Senators would support legislation or policies that allow their staff to unionize and collectively bargain for better working conditions and benefits.
The second question is asking whether Senators would support their own staff unionizing, which means allowing their employees to form a union to negotiate with the employer (the Senator’s office) for better wages, working conditions, and benefits
The Challenges of Working on Capitol Hill
During his four-year tenure on the Hill, Garbowit encountered several challenges that staffers commonly face. The hours were long, and overtime often went unpaid. Office conditions could be subpar, and there was general confusion about staffers’ rights when professional lines were crossed. Garbowit, who spent the duration of his Hill career in the office of Senator Smith, said that “people had a lot of difficult experiences.”
SenateUnionTracker.com: Tracking Union Support or Opposition of All 100 Senators
Garbowit’s SenateUnionTracker.com aims to get senators on the record and encourage conversations about improving the workplace environment. Initial results show that no Republicans responded to Garbowit’s inquiry, and more than half of Democrats also ignored it. Five Democrats answered no to the first question, and 15 Democrats, including Smith, answered yes to both questions. Garbowit hopes the tracker will allow staff to capitalize on the momentum that Senator Markey’s staff unionization brought to the Senate.
Initial Results: 15 Senators Open to Unionization
The Senate has lagged behind the House in its support for staff unionization. In May 2022, the Democrat-led House passed a resolution guaranteeing staff protection, which set the stage for the Congressional Workers Union to start organizing Hill offices. By the end of 2022, staff in the offices of 14 House Democrats had petitioned to hold union elections. Garbowit was shocked by how quickly the House was able to turn these stories and frustrations into something concrete that actually led to a rules change. He said, “I wanted to do something that would get senators on the record and try to force them to have these conversations.”
Garbowit Hopes to Empower Staffers with Momentum
Garbowit hopes that the tracker will allow staff to capitalize on the momentum that Senator Markey’s staff unionization brought to the Senate. Although he was at first reluctant to speak out in favor of unions, he eventually launched the tracker under his name to empower current staffers to speak up without fear of reprisal. “If a single staffer feels a little more empowered to talk about what they’ve experienced in their workplace and how they can make a productive change, that, to me, is just incredible,” Garbowit said.