Ahead of Likely Shutdown, Sen. Smith, Rep. Pressley Introduce Bill to Provide Back Pay for Federal Contract Workers

WASHINGTON — Ahead of a possible Republican government shutdown, Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07)introduced legislation to secure back pay for the thousands of federal contract workers who face layoffs without back pay during a potential shutdown. Unlike federal government employees, the thousands of federal contract employees—many of whom serve in modestly paid jobs like custodians and cafeteria workers—have no assurances that they will receive back pay to make up for the wages they miss during a shutdown. The bill is cosponsored by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

The Fair Pay for Federal Contractors Act seeks to ensure federal contract workers, including low-wage food service, janitorial and security service workers, are fairly compensated for the wages and benefits lost due to a lapse in appropriations. 

“This is about fairness—contractor workers and their families should not be penalized for a government shutdown that they did nothing to cause,” said Sen. Smith. “Contractor employees perform jobs that are critical to the operation of our government, providing food service, security, and doing custodial work.  These are often low-wage jobs that mean workers are living paycheck to paycheck. In the past, these workers haven’t received back pay at the end of a government shutdown like the thousands of government employees. And it’s time we right that wrong.”

“As a former hotel worker and unpaid Congressional intern who worked three jobs, I know all too well what it means to live paycheck-to-paycheck and to struggle to make ends meet,” said Rep. Pressley. “Government shutdowns are destabilizing events with disastrous consequences, especially for the thousands of low-wage service workers and their families. With federal contractors losing up to 15% of their annual income during the last government shutdown, we must take every measure to ensure that doesn’t happen again. I’m proud to stand with our service workers—from Capitol Hill to Logan Airport and all across America—by introducing this bill, which would help ensure that these families and individuals harmed by Republicans’ cruel games are made whole.”

“It’s a shame that a few members in the House of Representatives are refusing to do their jobs, and it’s disgraceful that this stands to impact the many federal contractors that keep our government facilities running,” said Sen. Warner. “Without the guarantee of a paycheck, the hundreds of thousands of dedicated federal contractors who show up every day may be forced to pick between keeping a roof over their heads or putting food on the table. I am glad to introduce this legislation to ensure that when Congress struggles to act, our federal workers contractors do not suffer long-term consequences.”

“Just like federal workers, federal contract workers aren’t the ones responsible for shutting down the government, but they bear the economic brunt,” said Sen. Cardin. “Though we have acted to ensure that all federal employees receive prompt back pay, thousands of federal contractors are currently at risk of losing out on income they rely on, through no fault of their own. It’s not fair, and it’s time to ensure that they get paid for the work they do on behalf of all Americans.”

“Our federal contractors make critical contributions to the federal government’s delivery of services that Virginians, Americans across the country, and our national security depend on,” said Sen. Kaine. “In 2019, I was glad to successfully negotiate the passage of legislation to secure back pay for federal workers during shutdowns, and will keep working until Congress does the same for our hardworking contractors who work side-by-side with our federal employees.”

“Government shutdowns hurt Ohioans, including thousands of government contact workers in Ohio who are forced to go without their paychecks, and often don’t get back pay. There are over 10,000 contractors at Wright Patt in Dayton, over 1,700 contractors at NASA Glenn in Cleveland and Sandusky, and thousands more across Ohio serving our state, our country, and our communities,” said Sen. Brown. “This bill would make sure these workers get the wages they earned, because Ohio workers should not be forced to pay the price for Washington politicians’ political games.”

“From cafeteria workers and maintenance staff to janitors and construction workers, federal contract employees do some of the most thankless yet essential jobs to support our government every day,” said Senator Van Hollen. “These are often low-wage jobs that require these workers to live paycheck to paycheck. They never cause government shutdowns, and they don’t deserve to be punished when they happen. We need to pass this legislation as soon as possible to ensure hardworking Americans are not deprived of their livelihoods.”

The Fair Pay for Federal Contractors Act would:

  • Provide contract workers, including low-wage service workers, with back pay and restored paid leave benefits, if used, after a government shutdown;
  • Cover costs associated with back pay for workers in an amount equal to their weekly compensation up to $1,442, which is 250% of the federal poverty level for a family of four; and
  • Require the Office of Federal Procurement Policy submit a report on federal contractors accessing back pay.

The legislation is cosponsored by Representatives John P. Sarbanes (MD-03), Shri Thanedar (MI-13), Stephen F. Lynch (MA-08), Nydia M. Velazquez (NY-07), Jerrold Nadler (NY-12), Troy A. Carter, Sr. (LA-02), Lois Frankel (FL-22), Barbara Lee (CA-12), Jonathan Jackson (IL-01), Gerald E. Connolly (VA-11), Melanie Stansbury (NM-01), André Carson (IN-07), David Trone (MD-06), Cori Bush (MO-01), Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Raul Ruiz (CA-25), Danny K. Davis (IL-07), Don Beyer (VA-08), Ann McLane Kuster (NH-02), Hank Johnson (GA-04), Jahana Hayes (CT-05), Paul Tonko (NY-20), Sara Jacobs (CA-51), and Susie Lee (NV-03).

The legislation is also endorsed by the following:

“IAM members are grateful for the unwavering dedication of Reps. Pressley, Holmes Norton and Norcross in the House, and Sen. Tina Smith in the Senate, for championing the Fair Pay for Federal Contractors Act,” said IAM International President Robert Martinez Jr. “Their leadership shines a beacon of hope for tens of thousands of IAM federal contract members, and countless more federal contract workers across the country, who tirelessly serve our nation alongside federal employees. This vital legislation, ensuring back pay compensation after government shutdowns, acknowledges the profound impact these men and women make to allow our nation to function. Beyond mere statistics, this legislation safeguards the livelihoods of hardworking families, preventing the painful ripple effects of missed payments and financial hardships. Let’s all stand united in support of our federal contract workers and their families.”

“A government shutdown hurts every family regardless of race, occupation and zip code. However, it is beyond time for every member of Congress to acknowledge how devastating a government shutdown is for the hundreds of thousands of men and women who work hard to keep our government operating in both good and bad times as federally contracted workers.  Security officers, janitors and other workers employed by federal contractors contribute so much to our country by administering vital programs, taking care of our nation’s parks, and keeping our office buildings safe. Yet, they risk permanently losing the income they need to pay rent, buy groceries or keep the lights on,” said SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry. “That’s why passing the Fair Pay for Federal Contractors Act of 2023 is so critical when our nation is on the verge of a government shutdown. Providing federally contracted workers with back pay would help ensure they have an opportunity for true recovery.”

“Contracted janitors and security officers, unlike direct federal employees, have never been able to count on back pay following a government shutdown,” said Manny Pastreich, President of 32BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU). “They live paycheck-to-paycheck and cannot afford to pay the price of a government shutdown that they did nothing to cause. Denying them pay during a shutdown would be catastrophic, even life-threatening for the sole providers who struggle to feed and pay rent for parents, children and dependents, especially those relying on them to pay for treating debilitating medical conditions. Congress must practice basic governance by passing Representative Pressley’s legislation to ensure leaders meet their moral and financial obligation to these hard-working men and women. Before reckless Republicans drive our nation off a cliff to realize their fever dreams, we must not let one more day go by without righting this wrong. Most Americans could not survive without income – why are contracted workers expected to?”

A copy of the bill text can be found here.

In 2019, Sen. Smith led the Senate effort to secure back pay for the thousands of federal contract workers who went many weeks without a paycheck during the 35-day government shutdown.