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June 25, 2019

Pressley Op-Ed: Justice Is What They Deserve, Justice Is What We Can Deliver

WASHINGTON – In an op-ed published today in The Hill, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and 32BJ Service Employees International Union President Hector Figueroa highlight the progress made toward securing back pay for as many as 580,000 federal contract workers who missed more than a month of pay during the government shutdown—including food service, janitorial and security workers. In the piece, they discuss HR 678, legislation Congresswoman Pressley introduced during the shutdown, which would ensure back pay for the thousands of low-wage contract service employees. Since its introduction, 48 Senators and more than 70 Representatives have signed on as cosponsors.  Today, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on a government funding package which includes a backpay provision.


Read the article online here.


The full text of the piece appears below:


Justice is what they deserve, justice is what we can deliver

By Rep. Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Hector Figueroa

It’s been nearly six months since the longest government shutdown in our country’s history, and while federal government employees rightfully received backpay for the time they couldn’t go to work, thousands of government contractors have yet to be made whole for the wages lost over the course of the shutdown. The federal agencies that hire these contractors anticipated the cost of paying them long before the shutdown began. These agencies owe it to the contractors who make their work possible to pay them the wages they need.


Government contractors perform essential jobs that keep our government operating – janitors, security officers and food service workers who work diligently day in and day out, oftentimes on an hourly basis and at low wages, to keep our government buildings across the country safe and clean. We’ve made historic progress toward securing the back pay these contract workers are owed, but unless and until we do, these workers and their families will continue to struggle to catch up.


These workers, many represented by property service union 32BJ SEIU, are still struggling just to get by while the rest of the country moves on.


Many of these hardworking men and women are forced to live paycheck to paycheck and just one missed paycheck can lead to financial ruin. The last shutdown has left contractors, who work shoulder-to-shoulder with federal employees, struggling to pay their mortgage, rent, and other household bills. Some even had to turn to food banks just to keep food on the table. These contract service workers are women like Lila Johnson, a cleaner and a grandmother who works to support her entire family and could barely pay her bills during the shutdown. When men and women like Lila go without pay, it can have disastrous financial consequences for generations to come.


This debilitating financial distress is not only unconscionable, it is entirely preventable.


This isn’t about politics—this is about compassion. The Trump administration shut down the government in exchange for billions in border wall funding and left thousands of hard-working contract workers in the balance. The unnecessary and lasting trauma we have inflicted on these workers and their families is despicable, but we have the power to do right by them.


The Fair Compensation for Low-Wage Contractor Employees Act of 2019 would make sure that these contract service workers receive back pay for wages lost in a government shutdown. After months of tireless organizing and advocating, the House Appropriations Committee announced that they would include funding for contract worker back pay in the upcoming funding bill – a critical step in finally making these workers whole.


We’re closer than ever before to securing back pay for federal contract service workers, but this fight is far from over.


Even in these polarizing times, paying these hardworking individuals the wages they are entitled to is something we can and should all agree on. Every one of my colleagues in Congress must make these contracted workers a priority when considering this upcoming funding bill.


Federal contract workers and their families did nothing to cause this senseless shutdown, but they are the ones who continue to suffer its consequences.  Now, they are counting on us make things right.


The time for action is now. Let’s pay our workers for the wages they can’t afford to go without.


Pressley represents Massachusetts’ 7th District and is a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. Figueroa is the President of 32BJ Service Employees International Union, the largest property services union in the country.



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