We’re attending the State of the Union to fight for federal contractors
© Greg Nash

Federal workers and their families had no hand in causing the recent 35-day government shutdown, but they did endure incredible hardships. Thankfully, Congress took action to ensure back pay for government employees who were affected, now it’s up to us to make sure all workers – including employees of federal contractors – receive lost wages.

Our local and national economies rely on contract work to complement and broaden our 21st century workforce. And our federal government is able to function because of the millions of Americans who work side-by-side with federal employees, performing jobs that are vital to the government and to the country. From the FAA to NASA, contractors fulfill critical services that keep Americans safe and secure. Why, then, are we only providing lost wages for federal employees but not employees of contractors?

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Approximately 5,000 out of the nearly 35,000 employees of federal contractors represented by the Machinists Union lost wages or paid leave because of the recent government shutdown, including many veterans. An estimated 1.2 million employees of federal contractors in all were affected by shutdown. Through no fault of their own, federal contractor employees and their families missed payments on their mortgages, loans, health care premiums and other expenses.

As President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump nominates Jeffrey Rosen to replace Rosenstein at DOJ McCabe says ‘it’s possible’ Trump is a Russian asset McCabe: Trump ‘undermining the role of law enforcement’ MORE addresses the state of our union, we’re hoping he talks about making all hardworking Americans whole who were negatively impacted by the reckless shutdown he caused. Contractor employees and federal employees work alongside one another and their pain is just as real.

We know that because we both worked for and hand-in-glove with government entities during our careers. As an aircraft assembler and electrician, we know the value of a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work and we’re disheartened that this administration has moved in the wrong direction by focusing on the rich and powerful instead of hardworking men and women. For example, our country should be investing in our infrastructure and putting Americans to work right now on projects that will make our communities safer. Our country desperately needs to invest in our roads, bridges, rails, ports, airports, electric grid, pipes and more, made from U.S. produced and sourced materials and with equipment manufactured here at home. This administration should focus on a comprehensive infrastructure plan that would do just that. The White House should also support efforts to raise the minimum wage and close the gender pay gap, as the stagnation of real wages matters to real workers and their families.

Now, workers are facing another shutdown threat. With so much stake, we need to provide lost wages for federal contractor employees as soon as possible. Congress must pass the bipartisan Fairness for Federal Contractors Act to retroactively pay all federal contract employees up to $1,400 per week. This will ensure low- and middle-class contractors who live paycheck to paycheck are able to pay their financial obligations and pick themselves up after the destruction caused by the longest government shutdown in history.

Ed Grabowksi, a logistics specialist contract worker and president of IAM Local 2061 at the Kennedy Space Center, says more than 90 percent of the union’s 700 members did not receive a paycheck during the shutdown. “Our members have already lost per person thousands of dollars of income that they might not recoup,” said Grabowski. “This [shutdown] has tentacles that impacts the whole economy.”

He’s right, and contractors like him need to know their work matters, that their lives matter. The president can be a real leader by preventing another shutdown and righting the wrongs from this past one. All hardworking Americans deserve their lost wages. All hardworking Americans deserve fairness.

Norcross represent New Jersey’s 1st District and serves on the House Committee on Education and Labor. He is also the Vice Chair and Liaison to Labor for the Congressional Progressive Caucus and is the co-founder of the Bipartisan Building Trades Caucus. Robert Martinez Jr. is the International President of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.