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Trump shutdown protest

Hundreds of federal workers and contractors rally against the partial federal government shutdown outside the headquarters of the AFL-CIO Jan. 10, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

'The Right Thing to Do': Senate Dems Demand Back Pay for Furloughed Government Contractors

"Contract workers and their families should not suffer the consequences of a shutdown that they did not cause."

Dozens of Democrats and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are demanding not only an end to "this wasteful and destructive government shutdown" but also that contractors furloughed by their employers should receive back pay, with funding help from the federal agencies impacted by President Donald Trump's "temper tantrum" over border wall funding.

"Low-wage service contract workers perform jobs that are absolutely vital to the government, such as food service, security, and custodial work. Many of these workers live paycheck-to-paycheck, and cannot afford to pay their rent and other bills if the shutdown continues."
—34 senators

In a letter sent Thursday to Russell Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), 34 senators argued that "contract workers and their families should not suffer the consequences of a shutdown that they did not cause."

As the so-called #TrumpShutdown tied for the longest in U.S. history on Friday, Congress sent a bill to the president's desk stipulating that federal employees be provided with back pay, as is customary, once the shutdown concludes. Contract workers, however, are not included in the bill.

"Low-wage service contract workers perform jobs that are absolutely vital to the government, such as food service, security, and custodial work," the letter explains. "Many of these workers live paycheck-to-paycheck, and cannot afford to pay their rent and other bills if the shutdown continues."

"Providing back pay to these low- and middle-income contractor employees who are furloughed by their employers is the right thing to do, and it is in the federal government's best interest to provide funding to the extent necessary to ensure that contractors deliver back pay to their workers," the letter charges.

Specifically, the senators call on Vought "to take immediate steps to ensure that contractor employees get the back pay that they deserve by providing clear directions for agencies and contractors to do so."

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who signed the letter, met with furloughed workers earlier this week and promised to spearhead legislation to ensure the federal contract workers receive back pay.

Brown and several lawmakers who signed the letter to Vought also endorsed the Federal Employee Civil Relief Act—introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) on Thursday—that aims to protect federal employees, contractors, and their families from foreclosures, evictions, and loan defaults during the shutdown. Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) introduced a companion bill in the House.

"Workers and their families should not have to face losing their homes or defaulting on loans because of President Trump's temper tantrum," Brown said in a statement. "President Trump is hurting the people who make this country work, and he needs to do his job and reopen the government right now."

The demands come as concerns grow that Trump is moving closer to declaring a "national emergency" in order to end the deadlock—a move legal experts warn would spark a constitutional crisis.

Otherwise, the shutdown, spurred by Trump's demand for $5.7 billion in border wall funding, could drag on indefinitely so long as Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) continues to acquiesce to the president by blocking votes on all bills to reopen the government approved by the Democrat-controlled House.

In addition to Sanders and Brown, the letter was signed by Democratic Sens. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Tina Smith (Minn.), Mark R. Warner (Va.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Doug Jones (Ala.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Tom Udall (N.M.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Martin Heinrich (N.M.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Kamala Harris (Calif.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Bob Menendez (N.J.), Bob Casey, Jr. (Pa.), Tom Carper (Del.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Chris Coons (Del.), and Chris Murphy (Conn.).

Read the full letter:

Dear Mr. Vought:

We are writing to urge you to direct federal agencies to work with contractors to provide back pay to compensate low- and middle-income contractor employees for the wages they have lost as a result of not being able to report to work during this government shutdown.

Contract workers and their families should not suffer the consequences of a shutdown that they did not cause. Low-wage service contract workers perform jobs that are absolutely vital to the government, such as food service, security, and custodial work. Many of these workers live paycheck-to-paycheck, and cannot afford to pay their rent and other bills if the shutdown continues.

After past shutdowns, contractor employees have generally not received back pay. In addition to our fight to protect federal workers who are being hurt by this shutdown, we are committed to righting this wrong for contractor employees. Government contracts typically have provisions to modify the terms of the contract. Federal contracting officers should use these provisions to work with contractors to provide back pay for employees who lost wages as a result of the government shutdown.

Providing back pay to these low- and middle-income contractor employees who are furloughed by their employers is the right thing to do, and it is in the federal government's best interest to provide funding to the extent necessary to ensure that contractors deliver back pay to their workers. Contractor employees cannot afford the chaos and uncertainty of government shutdowns, and some of these workers may seek other jobs if back pay is not provided to compensate for shutdown-related losses.

Most of all, this wasteful and destructive government shutdown must come to an end. We all support the legislation passed by the House of Representatives to reopen the government, which mirrors legislation that previously passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support.

We urge you to take immediate steps to ensure that contractor employees get the back pay that they deserve by providing clear directions for agencies and contractors to do so.

Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,


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