Trump blocks back pay for government contractors who lost wages during shutdown

Hundreds of thousands of federal contract workers went five weeks without pay. Trump's used to doing that

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published February 14, 2019 7:35PM (EST)

 (Getty/Mandel Ngan)
(Getty/Mandel Ngan)

President Trump, who has an extensive track record of stiffing contractors who worked for his company, blocked a measure that would have given back pay to federal contractors who lost five weeks of wages during the last month’s extended government shutdown.

While hundreds of thousands of federal workers received back pay for the wages they missed during the longest shutdown in American history, employees of federal contractors were barred from working and are not entitled to back pay.

Democratic negotiators pushed to include back pay for as many as 580,000 federal contractors in the spending deal that would give Trump more than $1.3 billion toward a border fence but were rebuffed by the president.

“I’ve been told the president won’t sign that,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told reporters Wednesday, according to NBC News. “I guess federal contractors are different in his view than federal employees."

The measure would have been the first ever to give back pay to contractors, who did not receive back pay after previous shutdowns.

A Trump administration official argued to HuffPost that the cost of giving back pay to federal contractors was too high. But Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., who sponsored the bill, has said previously that the legislation simply pays out funds that has already been allocated.

Smith noted that some Republicans backed the bill despite Trump’s opposition. She vowed to continue to fight for its passage.

“My legislation to right this wrong, which had bipartisan support, should have been included in the final budget deal, but I’m not done fighting to make this right, and I’ll keep on working to get it done,” Smith said in a statement to Vox.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., whose state includes many such workers, said it was “cruel and unnecessary to block back pay for federal contract workers who lost more than a month of wages and are still behind on bills due to President Trump’s shutdown.”

“Many of them work low-wage jobs and live paycheck-to-paycheck,” he added.

Trump blocking pay for contract workers should come as no surprise. USA Today reported during the 2016 campaign that hundreds of contractors like construction workers, painters, dishwashers and waiters have pursued legal action after they were stiffed by the Trump Organization. “On just one project, Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City,” the paper reported, “records released by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission in 1990 show that at least 253 subcontractors weren’t paid in full or on time, including workers who installed walls, chandeliers and plumbing.”

Democratic leaders said they will continue to push for the legislation to provide back pay for contractors, as well as a more expansive version of the Violence Against Women Act.

Democrats blocked an extension of the existing VAWA law in the spending bill because they favor a broader version of the law. That revised version would include the expansion of gun control laws aimed at barring people convicted of dating violence or stalking from having guns, provide housing for victims of domestic violence, and ban evictions based on the actions of an abuser, Roll Call reported.

The spending package is expected to pass both chambers of Congress Thursday.

Trump is expected to sign the bill before the Friday deadline, even though it provides less money for a border fence than the Senate deal he rejected before the shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said late on Thursday that Trump plans to declare a national emergency. Previous reporting suggests the White House plans to redirect money to the wall from other sources, including relief funds for California and Puerto Rico, Army Corps of Engineers flood control projects in Northern California, and Defense Department funds intended for military base infrastructure and housing for military families.

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's senior news editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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