Should federal contractors receive lost wages in a government shutdown? Democrats pushing for backpay

WASHINGTON−A new bill by congressional Democrats seeks to protect thousands of low-wage federal contractors who would see a total loss of income in a government shutdown that could begin Sunday.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota on Thursday introduced the Fair Pay for Federal Contractors Act, which would guarantee backpay for these subcontracted workers.

“This is about fairness — contractor workers and their families should not be penalized for a government shutdown that they did nothing to cause,” Smith said in a statement to USA TODAY. “Contractor employees perform jobs that are critical to the operation of our government, providing food service, security, and doing custodial work.”

Unlike direct federal employees, such as congressional staffers, who receive backpay at the conclusion of a shutdown, employees contracted by private third-party companies to work for the government never see their lost wages. During a shutdown, these workers go without hours, losing income and possibly benefits including healthcare coverage or pension contributions.

Willie Price, 63, said right now she is "praying" a shutdown does not happen for fear that she will not be able to pay her bills if it does.

“When you're living paycheck to paycheck, and then you don't get any money to come in, that's a real struggle. That's a hurtful thing,” Price said.

Price has worked in hospitality at the Library of Congress for over 40 years. She said she is still recovering from the last shutdown almost five years ago and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pressley first proposed legislation to ensure Price and others backpay in 2019 during her freshman term and following the longest government shutdown in history, which lasted 35 days between Dec. 2018 and Jan. 2019.

“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,” Pressley said in a statement. “Government shutdowns are destabilizing events with disastrous consequences, especially for the thousands of low-wage service workers and their families.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Democrats in Congress move to give backpay to contractors in shutdown