Senate Dems introduce legislation to back-pay low-wage contractors

Greg Nash

Senate Democrats on Wednesday introduced legislation that would provide back pay to low-wage contractors affected by the government shutdown.

“This bill is about helping a group of people who are often invisible—people who work in the cafeterias, who clean offices after everyone else goes home, security guards who keep our buildings safe overnight,” said Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), one of the bill’s sponsors.

Democrats have been struggling to find legislative language to deal with the thorny issue of contractors affected by the partial shutdown.

{mosads}While Congress has overwhelmingly supported providing back pay to federal workers who are either furloughed or work without pay in the event of a government shutdown, contractors are more difficult.

Government agencies all contract with outside companies differently, and contracts can take hourly or lump sum forms. Some contracting companies are big, profitable companies that can shift workers around or continue paying them through a shutdown, while others are small operations that are forced to simply furlough their workers.

The legislation Democrats settled on aims to compensate those low-wage workers that show up to work in federal buildings every day, filling jobs that once would have been filled by direct government employees.

“These are often low-wage jobs that require these workers to live paycheck to paycheck. They should not be punished for a shutdown they had nothing to do with,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), whose state has a large constituency of federal workers and contractors.

The legislation would require contractors to submit evidence of their relevant salary costs to the specific agency’s contracting officer.

It would only apply to the set of contractors defined in existing legislation setting guidelines for federal contractors: the Davis-Bacon Act and the Service Contract Act.

Those acts cover maintenance, security, food workers, custodians, construction and public works employees, as well as salaried administrative and professional workers, among others.

The maximum level of back pay the government would provide would be limited to $965 per week.

The legislation would also restore annual leave for the relevant contractors who were forced to use it during the shutdown.

House Democrats had indicated that they would be open to such legislation, but wanted to see legislative language first.

It is unclear if Republicans who control the Senate are on board, as they were for providing back pay for federal workers.

On Wednesday, President Trump signed the bipartisan legislation that would guarantee unpaid federal workers back pay once the shut down ends. It will apply to all future shutdowns as well.

-Updated 6 p.m.

Tags Chris Van Hollen Donald Trump Tina Smith

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