News and Commentary

Progressive Member Of Congress Reportedly Mistreats Staff, Contradicting Public Image As Champion For Workers
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) listens as FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on Capitol Hill June 10, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Capitol Hill is awash with stories of staffers either being mistreated or feeling they’ve been mistreated. Staff turnover in many offices is quite high, and media outlets regularly report on egregious examples of abuse.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) is the latest example of a congressperson allegedly mistreating their staff, according to BuzzFeed News, which spent months speaking to current and former staffers, reviewing documents and text messages, and corroborating accounts with witnesses.

As the outlet pointed out, junior Hill staffers are subjected to long hours and low pay for the area in which they must live. While an annual salary of $30,000-$40,000 may be fine in many parts of the country, it requires many sacrifices to earn that much and live in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S.

Jayapal has been in Congress since January 2017 and presents herself as a progressive advocate for workers. In 2020, she was elected to chair the Congressional Progressive Caucus. But staffers told BuzzFeed that her public persona does not match her private one and that she treats staff like second-class citizens. One staffer told the outlet that while Jayapal is publicly effective at advocating for workers, “She just doesn’t recognize that the staff are also humans.”

That’s the theme throughout the article, highlighted by examples of Jayapal mistreating her staff.

“In November 2020, she laid off two staffers without severance, two people familiar with the incident told BuzzFeed News. Chris Evans, a spokesperson for Jayapal, said the decision to consolidate was made to ‘best utilize’ the office’s resources, and the staffers were given six weeks’ notice. But one staff member who was told they were being laid off was invited to reapply for a new job in the office that would consolidate the two roles, those familiar said. The staffer was required to go through the full application process, despite the job being nearly identical to the one they had been laid off from. And then, without advance warning, they found out in an all-hands meeting that they did not get the job. The staffers who were let go declined to provide comment for this story,” BuzzFeed reported.

Other staffers said Jayapal routinely berates “staff in front of others, demanded grueling hours, and maintained an office culture marked by constantly changing expectations and little tolerance for error, to the extent that some staffers sought therapy and questioned their careers in public service,” the outlet added.

Another example involved Jayapal yelling at a staffer after a House Budget Committee hearing, driving the staffer to tears, though her office said the congresswoman later apologized. At one point, Jayapal allegedly blamed a staffer for her own weight gain because she didn’t have enough time on her schedule to go to the gym.

Some staffers said they sought mental health counseling for the “trauma” they experienced in Jayapal’s office.

Members of her office who spoke on the record discounted the numerous corroborated claims of current and former staffers, saying this is all about racism and sexism because Jayapal is a woman of color.

But the focus from staffers was the hypocrisy — fact that Jayapal presents herself as a progressive champion while mistreating her own staff.

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