Senators introduce back pay legislation for low-wage federal contractors during shutdown

A  few senators want to ensure that low-wage federal contractors — including cafeteria workers, janitors and security guards — receive back pay for the length of the partial government shutdown.

Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), along with Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.), are introducing legislation that would guarantee retroactive pay for low-wage federal contractors.

Smith said some low-wage contractors have been furloughed or have had their hours reduced during this partial shutdown.

“It’s especially unfair for the low-wage contractor employees who provide the critical work to keep federal buildings clean, operate cafeterias and keep government property secure,” she said in a statement. “In the past, these workers haven’t received back pay at the end of a government shutdown, and it’s time we right that wrong.”

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Because Congress has passed legislation to grant furloughed federal employees retroactive pay during past government shutdowns, government workers are virtually guaranteed back pay.

But Congress has no real mechanism to ensure the federal contracting community gets paid during a government shutdown. Individual companies can decide to pay their contractor-employees when the shutdown ends, but again, there’s no guarantee.

The Professional Services Council, which represents federal contractors, urged congressional leadership to find a solution to end the government shutdown and provide back pay for contractor employees.

“These contractors work side-by-side with their government counterparts, motivated by the same goals of public service and safety,” PSC President and CEO David Berteau wrote in a Jan. 4 letter to congressional leaders. “They deserve to be treated the same as their federal civilian counterparts. PSC urges Congress to provide the same redress for government contractors as it does for federal civilian employees.”

Some members of Congress have tried during previous government shutdowns to pass similar legislation guaranteeing back pay for federally contracted retail, food, custodial and security service employees. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) introduced a bill during the three-day shutdown in January 2018, which was designed to pay low-wage federal contractors who were placed on unpaid leave.

She introduced similar legislation back in 2013 after the 16-day government shutdown. Neither bill got a vote in the House.

Both the House and Senate have already introduced bills at the start of the 116th Congress that would ensure back pay for furloughed and excepted federal employees whenever this partial shutdown ends. The Senate’s version clarified federal payroll providers would begin processing checks as soon as the government reopened, rather than waiting until the next scheduled pay period.

House Democrats over the weekend introduced the text of four appropriations bills, which have already passed the chamber collectively and have bipartisan support in the Senate.

The House will first consider the financial services and general government bill, said appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.). That legislation would provide funding to reopen the Treasury Department, IRS, Office of Personnel Management, General Services Administration and other agencies.

It also includes retroactive pay for federal employees during the partial shutdown and a 1.9 percent raise for 2019.

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