Dems propose back pay for furloughed contract workers

A dozen House Democrats have proposed legislation that would require the government to pay back low-income contract workers who were placed on furlough during October's 16-day government shutdown.

Thousands of government employees and federal contract workers went without pay from Oct. 1 to 16, when the government was partially shutdown due to Congress's failure to reach a 2014 spending agreement.

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As part of the legislation that ended the shutdown, Congress agreed to provide back pay for government employees. But Congress didn't give contract workers the same deal.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) introduced the Low-Wage Federal Contractor Employee Back Pay Act, H.R. 3500. Norton said her bill would direct back pay to lower-income contract workers who need it most.

"Congress did the right thing when it gave back pay to federal employees, who work in the same buildings as these low-wage service workers," she added. "However, both groups of workers were victims who deserve to be made whole."

Norton argued that many service-related contract workers earn little more than the minimum wage. She also said that while contract workers are not direct government employees, "the distinction between federal workers and at least the lowest-paid service workers who serve the federal government … fails when it comes to a deliberate government shutdown."

Under her bill, contract workers would be given back pay if they work for a contractor that provides retail, food, custodial and security services to the federal government, and if the contractor put these workers on unpaid leave during the first half of October.

Co-sponsors of Norton's bill are Reps. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), Andre Carson (D-Ind.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).