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September 28, 2023

Ahead of Possible Shutdown, Rep. Pressley, Sen. Smith, and Reps. Norton, Norcross Introduce Bill to Provide Back Pay For Federal Contractors

Bill Would Ensure Federal Contract Workers Hurt by GOP Shutdown Receive Back Pay

Bill Text (PDF)

WASHINGTON — Ahead of a possible Republican government shutdown, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Senator Tina Smith (D-MN), alongside Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Donald Norcross (NJ-01), introduced the bicameral Fair Pay for Federal Contractors Act, legislation to ensure back pay for federal contractors—including the thousands of low-wage contract service employees—whose paychecks and livelihoods would be held hostage during a potential shutdown. Pressley and Smith first introduced this bill in 2019, during the longest government shutdown in history.

The Fair Pay for Federal Contractors Act would ensure federal contract workers, including low-wage food service, janitorial and security service workers, are fairly compensated for the wages and benefits lost due to a lapse in appropriations.  

“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,” said Rep. Pressley. “Government shutdowns are destabilizing events with disastrous consequences, especially for the thousands of low-wage service workers and their families. With federal contractors losing up to 15% of their annual income during the last government shutdown, we must take every measure to ensure that doesn’t happen again. I’m proud to stand with our service workers—from Capitol Hill to Logan Airport and all across America—by introducing this bill, which would help ensure that these families and individuals harmed by Republicans’ cruel games are made whole.”

“This is about fairness—contractor workers and their families should not be penalized for a government shutdown that they did nothing to cause,” said Senator Smith. “Contractor employees perform jobs that are critical to the operation of our government, providing food service, security, and doing custodial work.  These are often low-wage jobs that mean workers are living paycheck to paycheck. In the past, these workers haven’t received back pay at the end of a government shutdown like the thousands of government employees. And it’s time we right that wrong.”

“Although federal employees received back pay after the last government shutdown, federal contract workers, who do the same federal work, were left out altogether,” said Rep. Norton. “Contract workers have become second-class federal workers, doing the same jobs as civil servants but without the pay and security of federal employees. The Trump shutdown in 2018 exposed their vulnerability, which had been previously under the radar. Thank you to Rep. Pressley, Rep. Norcross, and Senator Smith for partnering on this important bill.”

“From electricians to food service workers, federal contractors perform crucial jobs that keep our government running every day,” said Rep. Norcross. “The looming government shutdown will inflict hardship on hundreds of thousands of workers and their families. Make no mistake, a shutdown will be the result of Republican chaos and partisan games, and it is unfair for these workers to pay the price for a crisis they did not create. That’s why I’m proud to introduce this legislation to ensure workers are protected and will receive the lost wages they are owed.”

The Fair Pay for Federal Contractors Act would:

  • Guarantee contract workers, including low-wage service workers, receive back pay and restored paid leave benefits, if used, after a government shutdown;
  • Cover costs associated with back pay for workers in an amount equal to their weekly compensation up to $1,442, which is 250% of the federal poverty level for a family of four; and
  • Require the Office of Federal Procurement Policy submit a report on federal contractors accessing back pay.

The legislation is cosponsored by Representatives John P. Sarbanes (MD-03), Shri Thanedar (MI-13), Stephen F. Lynch (MA-08), Nydia M. Velazquez (NY-07), Jerrold Nadler (NY-12), Troy A. Carter, Sr. (LA-02), Lois Frankel (FL-22), Barbara Lee (CA-12), Jonathan Jackson (IL-01), Gerald E. Connolly (VA-11), Melanie Stansbury (NM-01), André Carson (IN-07), David Trone (MD-06), Cori Bush (MO-01), Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Raul Ruiz (CA-25), Danny K. Davis (IL-07), Don Beyer (VA-08), Ann McLane Kuster (NH-02), Hank Johnson (GA-04), Jahana Hayes (CT-05), Paul Tonko (NY-20), Sara Jacobs (CA-51), Susie Lee (NV-03), Jennifer L. McClellan (VA-04), Betty McCollum (MN-04), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Stacey E. Plaskett (VI-AL), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Raul Ruiz (CA-25), Bobby Scott (VA-03), Darren Soto (FL-09), Abigail Spanberger (VA-07), Rashida Tlaib (MI-12), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Jennifer Wexton (VA-10), Nikema Williams (GA-05), Frederica S. Wilson (MA-06), Seth Moulton (MA-06), Sean Casten (IL-06), Greg Casar (TX-35), Bobby Scott (VA-03), Andy Kim (NJ-03), Suzan Delbene (WA-01), Becca Balint (VT-AL), Shontel M. Brown (OH-11), Mark Takano (CA-39), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Jill Tokuda (HI-02), Lauren Underwood (IL-14), Marilyn Strickland (WA-10), and Adriano Espaillat (NY-13).

The legislation is also endorsed by Service Employees International Union (SEIU), American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), 32BJ SEIU, Center for American Progress, Teamsters, and UNITE HERE.

“A government shutdown hurts every family regardless of race, occupation and zip code. However, it is beyond time for every member of Congress to acknowledge how devastating a government shutdown is for the hundreds of thousands of men and women who work hard to keep our government operating in both good and bad times as federally contracted workers.  Security officers, janitors and other workers employed by federal contractors contribute so much to our country by administering vital programs, taking care of our nation’s parks, and keeping our office buildings safe. Yet, they risk permanently losing the income they need to pay rent, buy groceries or keep the lights on,” said SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry. “That’s why passing the Fair Pay for Federal Contractors Act of 2023 is so critical when our nation is on the verge of a government shutdown. Providing federally contracted workers with back pay would help ensure they have an opportunity for true recovery.”

“The AFL-CIO supports the Fair Pay for Federal Contractors Act, and applauds Representatives Norton, Norcross and Pressley for standing on the side of workers employed by federal government contractors,” said AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler. “Congress must ensure that all workers who miss paychecks during a shutdown are provided back pay when the government reopens, whether they work directly for the federal government or for a third party.  The remedy of immediate, full back pay should apply equally to both federal government employees and federal government contractor employees.  The AFL urges Congress to pass the Fair Pay for Federal Contractors Act and send it to President Biden to be signed without delay.”

“IAM members are grateful for the unwavering dedication of Reps. Pressley, Holmes Norton and Norcross in the House, and Sen. Tina Smith in the Senate, for championing the Fair Pay for Federal Contractors Act,” said IAM International President Robert Martinez Jr. “Their leadership shines a beacon of hope for tens of thousands of IAM federal contract members, and countless more federal contract workers across the country, who tirelessly serve our nation alongside federal employees. This vital legislation, ensuring back pay compensation after government shutdowns, acknowledges the profound impact these men and women make to allow our nation to function. Beyond mere statistics, this legislation safeguards the livelihoods of hardworking families, preventing the painful ripple effects of missed payments and financial hardships. Let’s all stand united in support of our federal contract workers and their families.”

“Contracted janitors and security officers, unlike direct federal employees, have never been able to count on back pay following a government shutdown,” said Manny Pastreich, President of 32BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU). “They live paycheck-to-paycheck and cannot afford to pay the price of a government shutdown that they did nothing to cause. Denying them pay during a shutdown would be catastrophic, even life-threatening for the sole providers who struggle to feed and pay rent for parents, children and dependents, especially those relying on them to pay for treating debilitating medical conditions. Congress must practice basic governance by passing Representative Pressley’s legislation to ensure leaders meet their moral and financial obligation to these hard-working men and women. Before reckless Republicans drive our nation off a cliff to realize their fever dreams, we must not let one more day go by without righting this wrong. Most Americans could not survive without income – why are contracted workers expected to?”

“UNITE HERE applauds Rep. Ayanna Pressley for her leadership in insisting Congress look out for the people seemingly invisible to the Republican decision-makers leading us to a government shutdown — like UNITE HERE Local 23 members who feed public servants and visitors in our nation’s Capitol,” said UNITE HERE President D. Taylor. “It’s irresponsible and unnecessary that a few holdouts have our country hostage, refusing to do their jobs, and threatening to shut down our government. But if the worst happens, our members who work for contractors deserve backpay like other federal employees when government business resumes. We enthusiastically support this bill.”

A copy of the bill text can be found here.

Rep. Pressley initially introduced the legislation—her first piece of legislation as a Congresswoman—during the 2018-2019 government shutdown. Rep. Pressley had previously joined her Progressive Caucus colleagues in urging bicameral leadership that federal contract service workers – including food service, custodial, and security professionals – receive back pay for wages lost during the 2018-2019 government shutdown.

In the Senate, Sen. Smith led the effort to secure back pay for the thousands of federal contract workers who went many weeks without a paycheck during the 35-day government shutdown in 2019.