Speaking Up for Oft-Ignored Workers, Rep. Ayanna Pressley Demands Back-Pay for Federal Contractors Harmed by Trump Shutdown

Speaking up for the thousands of low-wage federal contractors who—unlike government employees—face the prospect of receiving no back-pay when the ongoing government shutdown comes to an end, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) sent a letter to congressional leaders on Sunday demanding that any funding agreement to reopen the government must include “retroactive pay for all workers” who have been furloughed or forced to work unpaid.

“I urge you to stand in solidarity with these workers and ensure that any agreement includes retroactive pay for all workers forced to go without pay as a result of this partial government shutdown.”
—Rep. Ayanna Pressley

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“I write today with the utmost urgency to implore you to find an immediate solution to this partial government shutdown and ensure that any final funding agreement includes retroactive compensation for the thousands of low-wage government contract service workers that have had their lives put on hold as a result of President [Donald] Trump’s obsession to fund a xenophobic hate wall,” Pressley wrote.

“Today, I stand in solidarity with the working people who have been held hostage by this partial government shutdown,” the Massachusetts congresswoman continued. “I stand in solidarity with the hard-working mothers and fathers who had to hold off on purchasing gifts over the holidays in order to pay their rent and keep the lights on.”

Pressley’s letter comes as the government shutdown over Trump’s demand for $5 billion in border wall funding continues into its third week with no end in sight.

“There’s no good argument for protecting federal workers, as is done routinely, while janitors and security guards get quietly stiffed.”
—David Dayen

In the weeks since the government partially closed, federal employees and contractors have taken to social media to share how the shutdown has harmed them and their families, particularly during the holiday season.

While the hundreds of thousands of federal employees have been furloughed or been forced to work without pay will likely receive back-pay at the end of the shutdown, nearly 2,000 contractors may not receive any retroactive compensation.

Donna Kelly, a 63-year-old security contractor for the Smithsonian, told Buzzfeed that she is not sure her blood pressure medication will last through the shutdown, and said the lack of back-pay would be devastating.

“There’s no way I can get around not taking that medicine,” Kelly said. “It’s a matter of life and death, and what can we do? If this thing continues, I won’t have money to pay for anything.”

As journalist David Dayen noted in a piece for The New Republic last week, government contractors “are the most vulnerable people in the federal workforce, the ones who can least afford a disruption in their pay. And yet, in the aftermath of government shutdowns, they are the only employees who don’t get compensated after the fact.”


While House Democrats’ two-bill package to reopen the government includes back-pay for federal employees, Dayen wrote, the legislation “excludes everyone who toils for a federal contractor, particularly the low-wage workers who clean, secure, and staff federal buildings.”

“There’s no good argument for protecting federal workers, as is done routinely, while janitors and security guards get quietly stiffed,” Dayen concluded. “This is now a test for left-wing Democrats. You can give speeches about being an advocate for low-wage workers, but that’s worthless if you’re not speaking up for them when they need it the most.”

With her letter on Sunday, Pressley stood with these oft-forgotten workers who, she noted, “are forced to live paycheck to paycheck and have been disproportionately impacted by this reckless shutdown.”

In addition to Pressley’s efforts in the House, six Senate Democrats last week announced plans to introduce legislation that would retroactively pay the thousands of low-wage contractors who have been harmed by the shutdown.

Read Pressley’s full letter below:

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