WASHINGTON D.C. [03/08/19]—Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith continued her fight to secure back pay for federal contract workers who went many weeks without a paycheck during the recent 35-day federal government shutdown by pushing the leaders the Senate Appropriations Committee to include funding for back pay in an upcoming disaster relief package.
Unlike federal government employees, who received back pay after they returned to work when the shutdown ended in February, federal contract employees—many of whom serve in modestly-paid jobs—did not receive back pay to make up for the wages they missed. During the shutdown, Sen. Smith led the Senate effort to secure back pay for contract workers, and is continuing to push for it.
In a bipartisan letter to Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sen. Smith joined Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and a bipartisan group of more than 35 of their colleagues to press for inclusion of back pay in the next disaster relief package.
“Contractor workers and their families should not be penalized for a government shutdown that they did nothing to cause,” the Senators wrote. “Contractor employees perform jobs that are critical to the operations of our government, such as food service, security, and custodial work. These are often low-wage jobs that require workers to live paycheck to paycheck. As a result, the shutdown has left contractors struggling with unpaid rent and other mounting bills that many of these workers still cannot afford without back pay.”
In addition to Sens. Smith and Van Hollen, the letter was signed by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Angus King (I-Maine), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).
On January 4, Sen. Smith pledged to stand up for federal contract workers and announced plans to introduce legislation to secure back pay for the contractor employees who were going without pay during the government shutdown. Later that month, Sen. Smith followed through on that promise by introducing the Fair Compensation for Low-Wage Contractor Employees Act with Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.).Since introducing the bill—which has bipartisan support from Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)—Sen. Smith took part in a roundtable with Sens. Van Hollen and Cardin and federal contract workers hurt by the shutdown.
The text of the letter is available below:
Dear Chairman Shelby and Vice Chairman Leahy:
As discussions proceed for upcoming appropriations bills, we urge you to include a provision to provide back pay to compensate federal contractor employees for the wages they lost as a result of not being able to report to work during the recent government shutdown.
Contractor workers and their families should not be penalized for a government shutdown that they did nothing to cause. While federal employees received back pay at the end of the shutdown, federal contractors did not. Contractor employees perform jobs that are critical to the operations of our government, such as food service, security, and custodial work. These are often low-wage jobs that require workers to live paycheck to paycheck. As a result, the shutdown has left contractors struggling with unpaid rent and other mounting bills that many of these workers still cannot afford without back pay.
There are bipartisan bills in both houses of Congress that would provide back pay to compensate contractor employees for their lost wages. As supporters of this effort, we urge you to include back pay for contractor employees in a supplemental appropriations bill for FY2019 or as part of the regular appropriations process for FY2020.