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On the Anniversary of Government Reopening, Contractors Renew Push for Back Pay

Although Congress enacted back pay for furloughed federal employees at the end of last year’s 35-day partial government shutdown, Senate Republicans have repeatedly thwarted efforts to similarly compensate low-wage federal contractors.

A union representing more than 600 low wage federal contractors on Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the end of last year’s 35-day partial government shutdown by again calling on Congress to approve back pay for contractors who lost income as a result of agency closures.

Part of the deal to reopen the government included back pay for all federal workers furloughed during the shutdown, and language ensuring they would automatically receive back pay during any future lapse in appropriations. But the provision was not extended to include government contractors, and the White House and Senate Republicans reportedly balked at adding them.

Many employees of contractors were sent home without pay last year because of the shutdown. The lapse in appropriations was particularly difficult for blue collar workers, like janitors, security officers and food service employees at federal buildings.

Officials with the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, which represents building service workers both at federal agencies and in the private sector, demanded that Congress make federal contractors whole.

“While the shutdown ended a year ago today, federally contracted janitors and security officers are still nowhere near recovery without 35 days of back pay that federal workers received,” said Jaime Contreras, vice president of the union. “House and Senate Democrats rose above politics time and time again to help make these men and women whole, but Republicans blocked their effort to fulfill a basic duty to serve the working families who elected them in the first place.”

Last fall, as lawmakers negotiated a full year spending package to keep the government open through September, Democrats again pushed to provide back pay to contractors, but the measure did not make it into the final bill. Contreras said that while it is unjust for anyone to go without pay as a result of a shutdown, low-wage contractors are affected even more than full-time federal employees.

“Contracted workers, who earn much less than direct federal employees, can least afford to miss even one day of pay, and yet, they are still paying the price for a shutdown they had nothing to do with,” Contreras said. “Time may heal all wounds, but it doesn’t pay the bills. These janitors and security officers, along with their families, still live paycheck to paycheck, face eviction, have their power shut off, and experience hunger, among many hardships.”