By George Kevin Jordan, AFRO Staff Writer
A little over a month ago Faye Smith found herself in the Senate Office Building protesting and searching for Senator Mitch McConnell in order to impress upon him how the federal shutdown was impacting her life.
Now with the shutdown officially over, and another one looming, Smith is back with Lila Johnson another federal contract worker. Both are representatives of 32BJ – SEIU, a union which represents over 600 janitors and security guards that were furloughed and didn’t receive wages. Together they are at the Senate to support legislation that would provide back wages to low wage workers who are federally contracted during a shutdown.
Government contractors and representatives of 32BJ-SEIU Lila Johnson (far left) and Faye Smith (far right), with politicians Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).
According to the their summary, The Fair Compensation for Low-Wage Contractor Employees Act would, “compensate contractors for the costs of providing back pay to low-wage contractor service employees who have been furloughed or laid off during the shutdown. In addition, some contractors have forced workers to use their annual leave during the shutdown, so the bill would compensate contractors for restoring annual leave as well. For ease of administration, the bill builds on an existing process used by contractors to recoup other shutdown-related costs.”
The District’s Representative to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) led the house bill along with Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and several other House Democrats.
The Senate bill is led by U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) along with U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD.), Ben Cardin (D-MD.), Mark Warner (D-VA.), and Tim Kaine (D-VA.) and supported by mostly Democrats.
Officials said that the legislation would provide back pay for the 35-day federal shutdown that just past. Van Hollen said the hope is that legislation will be added onto the bill to keep the government open and that the legislation will carry the same protections for contractors that a recently passed bill did for federal workers.
“It would apply after any government shutdown,” Van Hollen said.
Some may remember Smith who was featured on several news outlets across the country when she spoke of her journey since the federal shutdown.
Smith works as a security guard for the Smithsonian at the Hirshhorn Museum. When the shutdown occurred she said she had been looking forward to the pay bump she was to receive after relocating from Stone Mountain, GA, to Washington D.C. She went from $12 an hour to $17.50, Smith said.
“I moved down from Georgia thinking I was gonna get the big dream, the money,” Smith said, adding she has a daughter and two grandchildren that live in the DMV area. She got transferred and was only two months into her new job when the shutdown happened.
“I had a panic attack, I was stressed out, I was traumatized, all of that,” Smith said.
Rent was due, and the bills loomed. Thankfully Smith’s story went viral. D.L. Hughley gave her $2,000. A GoFundMe account was set up in her name and she received over $11,000. Now she is paid up for four months. But the threat of another shutdown is still devastating.
Ms. Johnson had been a custodian with the Department of Agriculture for 21 years. Johnson makes around $20 per hour. And she retired from a previous job. But she cares for two of her great grandchildren. So when the furlough happened she had Christmas to worry about.
She found out about the government furlough while watching television. She had been through shutdowns before but she said, “I had no idea it was gonna be for 35 days.”
“I felt it the moment it came on because I didn’t have any money coming in,” Johnson said.
Smith and Johnson are both back at work,. Smith should receive a paycheck this week, while Johnson expects to be paid by the end of the month.
Both Smith and Johnson will be guests of Norton and Van Hollen respectively during the President’s State of the Union address.