“The limbo they face highlights a stark disparity in the way the government treats career public servants and the laborers who perform the often unglamorous work that keeps their offices running. Federal employees who are furloughed or forced to work without pay during a shutdown are guaranteed by law to receive back pay for their missed wages. Contract workers have no such protections, making them especially vulnerable to the fiscal brinkmanship that has become one of Congress’s defining features.
“More than 200 such employees provide hospitality services to lawmakers and their staffs in the U.S. Capitol Complex, according to union leaders. Several thousand others perform similar duties in federal buildings in Washington and beyond.”
One thing Congress can do before another shutdown is ensure low-paid workers employed by federal contractors receive the same backpay and benefits as federal employees do. Non-partisan legislation could also ensure federal contracts include guarantees of equal treatment during shutdowns and require contractors to pay employees. Legislative action assumes, of course, that members of Congress take the time to think about the consequences of government shutdowns to workers living paycheck to paycheck, including those that who clean their toilets and serve them food. Recent research has described almost half of US workers as low-paid.
“Government shutdowns can affect contractors in many ways, but here are two key impacts to watch for. First, if an agency needs to furlough employees, it may also need to shut down government work sites, cease communications with federal contractors, stop awarding contracts or even stop performing contractually specified obligations. This can prevent a contractor from making deliveries or getting to a government work site.
“Second, an affected agency will typically be unable to provide new funding for existing contracts, which prevents it from executing contract modifications or options.”