Hundreds of thousands of federal employees have been furloughed or are working without pay as the government shutdown continues into a third week.
But another group of workers also has been hit hard: government contractors. And unlike those employed directly by the government who likely will get back pay for this period, contractors in past shutdowns have not.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a freshman Democrat from Massachusetts, wants to change that. Pressley introduced legislation on Tuesday to ensure back pay for government contractors ― from food workers and janitors to security services ― who depend on federal funds for their wages. Since the shutdown, many have been furloughed or have received “stop work” orders, putting them out of work, and without pay, until the government is running again.
Pressley urged congressional leaders in a weekend letter to ensure that “any final funding agreement includes retroactive compensation for the thousands of low-wage government contract service workers that have had their lives put on hold as a result of President Trump’s obsession to fund a xenophobic hate wall.”
About 2,000 low-wage contract workers are off the job amid the shutdown, Pressley said in her letter. Her bill would ensure back pay specifically for “low-wage workers,” including those in retail, food, custodial or security jobs.
“The ongoing government shutdown ― a crisis created by the Trump Administration in pursuit of a ‘monument to hate’ that will do nothing to make our country safer ― is threatening the livelihoods of more than 800,000 federal workers, none more so than contract service workers, many of whom work on an hourly basis, for low wages, and currently have no prospect of recouping wages lost as a result of the shutdown,” Pressley said in a statement.
“We must ensure that contract services workers, many of whom are living paycheck to paycheck, are able to recover their lost wages,” she added.
Pressley’s legislation was co-sponsored by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and about 10 other Democrats. While the legislation is likely to garner support in the Democratic-controlled House, its chances of passing the GOP-led Senate are less certain.
President Donald Trump is not budging on his demand for $5 billion to fund his promised wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, while Democrats, who control the House, are opposed. Trump on Friday said the shutdown could go on for “months or even years,” and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Sunday it was likely to “drag on a lot longer.”
“We do have a little bit in savings to help out, but we kind of live paycheck to paycheck,” 47-year-old Misty Carrothers, a paralegal on a government contract with the Department of Justice, told HuffPost late last month. She has been out of work during the shutdown.
“My last paycheck covers the first-of-the-month bills, which are the big ones: rent and car insurance,” she said. “But then you have credit cards that come in the middle of the month, and my health insurance may or may not be fully covered on my next paycheck.
“It’s just like, when is this going to end?”
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