Democrats urge White House to push backpay for contractors

Democrats urge White House to push backpay for contractors
© Anna Moneymaker

Senate Democrats are urging the White House to secure backpay for federal contractors, who unlike federal workers have not been compensated for lost work due to shutdowns in the past.

“We urge you to take immediate steps to ensure that contractor employees get the back pay that they deserve by providing clear directions for agencies and contractors to do so,” 34 Democratic senators wrote in a letter to acting White House budget chief Russell Vought obtained by The Hill.

The 20-day partial shutdown that has has left 800,000 federal employees either furloughed or working without pay has also put thousands of contractors out of work. While federal employees have always received backpay, contractors have not.

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Low-wage contractors, in particular, who do custodial, security and food service work for the federal government, are vulnerable to a sudden lapse in their wages. With no signs that the shutdown will end anytime soon, their financial hardships are expected to mount.

“Contract workers and their families should not suffer the consequences of a shutdown that they did not cause,” the letter said. “Many of these workers live paycheck-to-paycheck, and cannot afford to pay their rent and other bills if the shutdown continues.”

Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenOn The Money: Judge upholds House subpoena for Trump financial records | Trump vows to appeal ruling by 'Obama-appointed judge' | Canada, Mexico lift retaliatory tariffs on US | IRS audit rate falls Mnuchin signals administration won't comply with subpoena for Trump tax returns Dem lawmakers urge FCC to scrutinize broadcast workforce diversity MORE (D-Md.), who has spearheaded efforts to secure backpay and represents a state with thousands of people affected by the shutdown, says he is searching for a legislative solution to ensure that contractors are also paid once the shutdown ends. But legislators are struggling to find technical legal language to get the workers their money. 

The federal government signs its contracts with companies, not their workers, and would have to find a way to ensure that any federal pay went to the workers who missed shifts, and not the bottom line of the company. 

That’s one reason Democrats are hoping to shift the onus to the executive branch.

“Government contracts typically have provisions to modify the terms of the contract. Federal contracting officers should use these provisions to work with contractors to provide back pay for employees who lost wages as a result of the government shutdown,” the letter stated.