Notes From The Capital: January 2019

Fighting To Secure Back Pay for Low- and Mid- Level Federal Contract Workers

I’m glad that President Trump’s 35-day shutdown—the longest in U.S. history—is over. A shutdown isn’t good for anyone. That’s why, in December, Senate Republicans and Democrats came together on a reasonable deal that would’ve kept the government open. But the President rejected it.

This unnecessary and wasteful shutdown made pawns of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Among those hit the hardest are low- and mid- level federal contract workers, like janitors, cafeteria workers, and security guards. They aren’t getting back pay after this shutdown, and haven’t received back pay after previous ones. In Washington, I heard from Smithsonian janitors and security staff who are struggling to put food on the table, pay bills, and keep their homes. And federal contractors in Minnesota are facing similar problems. So I’ve introduced a bill to fix this. My bill would use an existing contracting process—know as an “equitable adjustment”—to make sure that contractors can provide back pay to workers, with full back pay to low-wage workers, and partial back pay to higher-income earners.

But the shutdown didn’t just hurt contract workers. Some Minnesota farmers couldn’t get their checks endorsed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and lapses in federal funding forced tribes to make hard decisions of how to continue medical services and childcare. At the Division of Indian Work in Minneapolis, I heard how the shutdown was putting stress on food shelves and food assistance programs, which thousands of Minnesotans use from time to time. I met air traffic controllers and TSA agents at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport who were worried about making ends meet, adding unnecessary stress to already demanding jobs. During a visit to the University of Minnesota, I heard that the university was spending about half a million dollars a day as it struggled to make up the difference in federal funding, disrupting important research. And, of course, thousands of Minnesota federal employees and low- and mid-wage contractors went without pay.

Looking forward, I’m going to make a full-court press to get my bill signed into law. It already has nearly 40 Senate cosponsors and a House companion, and this is just the beginning. This is an important opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to work together to do something good. Fighting for fairness, justice, and the well-being of thousands of Americans should be bipartisan.

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