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 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.
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:
Dear Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, and Leader McCarthy:
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 Trump's obsession to fund a xenophobic hate wall.
As you know, today marks day 16 of President Trump's partial government shutdown. For more than two weeks now, more than 850,000 federal workers have been either required to report to work without pay or have been furloughed waiting to hear about whether they will be retroactively compensated. Moreover, an estimated 2,000 additional hard-working men and women—security guards, janitors, food service workers—have been furloughed from their jobs with no prospects of back-pay during this government shutdown due to the fact that they are employed through third-party government contractors.
Many of these employees work diligently day in and day out, oftentimes on an hourly basis and at low wages, to keep our government buildings across the country safe and clean. Regardless of the critical nature of their work, these men and women are forced to live paycheck to paycheck and have been disproportionately impacted by this reckless shutdown.
Just 72 hours ago, I was sworn into office to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States and represent the constituents of the Massachusetts 7th Congressional District. On my first day in office, I along with the majority of my colleagues in the House of Representatives voted to reopen the federal government so that hundreds of civil servants can head back to work and ensure the government works on behalf of its citizens. Today, I stand in solidarity with the working people who have been held hostage by this partial government shutdown. 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.
As you negotiate a final funding proposal to reopen the federal government, 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, including those low-wage contracted service workers who have been harmed by the actions of this administration.
This article first appeared in Common Dreams