One of the key post-shutdown tests for Senate Republicans will be this: Do federal contract workers get back pay? Those workers, many of them among the lowest-paid in the government, didn’t get back pay after the 2013 shutdown, and it will only come this time through a separate bill, which Democrats have introduced, including up to $965 a week in back pay plus any sick days that people used to get through the shutdown.
The shutdown caused pain for hundreds of thousands of workers, perhaps most of all for these workers largely earning between $450 and $650 a week, more than a thousand of them in the expensive Washington, D.C., area, and without any guarantee, or even strong hope, of getting back pay when government reopened. Unemployment benefits weren’t a good answer, as one Smithsonian security guard discovered: The checks took weeks to start arriving and were hundreds of dollars short of his pay.
National Portrait Gallery cleaning supervisor Audrey Murray-Wright told the Washington Post that she couldn’t afford her blood pressure medication—which presumably would have been particularly important as she looked at a stack of bills she was behind on—but the worst part was that “I never, ever want to tell my son, ‘Don’t drink all that milk so you can save your brother some.’”
These people do important work for the government, for low pay. They deserve back pay every bit as much as if their checks came directly from the government rather than through a private company with a government contract. So, will Senate Republicans vote for, and Donald Trump sign, a bill to make them whole?