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Pressley seeking back pay for federal contractors

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Pressley seeking back pay for federal contractors
U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley and American Federation of Government Employees Vice President Sajid Shahriar speak to reporters. BANNER PHOTO

The 35-day government shutdown ended last week with a continuing resolution providing funding for three weeks, but the aftermath and the threat of another shutdown weigh heavy on federal workers as President Donald Trump continues to battle Congress with his push for $5.7 billion in funding for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

For government workers who have gone five weeks without pay, the effects of the shutdown and Trump’s threat to force another Feb. 15 have created an atmosphere of instability, according to U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who met with furloughed government workers Saturday.

“We have passed a [continuing resolution], but the residual and reverberating effects and impact of this will go on for many months to come,” Pressley said, speaking to reporters after her meeting with several dozen federal employees. “They made the choice to work for the federal government and they are insecure. They feel vulnerable.”

Hard line on wall

Democrats, including Pressley, have steadfastly refused to provide funding for the border wall Trump first promised during the 2016 presidential election. Pressley said the party would not allow Trump to use government shutdowns as a bargaining tool.

“This was a completely manufactured crisis,” she said. “We have a man-made crisis at the border which will be resolved with policy. A shutdown is not policy. We need to government to reopen and stay open so that we can have a debate about how to continue to strengthen and secure the border.”

During her hour-and-a-half-long meeting, which was held at the West Street headquarters of the labor union SEIU 32BJ, Pressley met with workers from HUD, the EPA, the IRS and other federal agencies.

Sajid Shahriar, a vice president of the American Federation of Government Workers 3258 who was in the meeting with Pressley, echoed Pressley’s call for a long-term solution.

“I would just ask that that we make sure this is resolved for a longer time than just three weeks, because the consequences of this over the last 35 days have been devastating, not only for the people I represent, but for the people we serve as well,” he said.

While this is not the first time the government has shut down, it has been the longest shutdown in history. As Pressley pointed out, recent shutdowns were caused by legislative wrangling and battles over the federal budget.

“They were not about the whims and the desires of any one person,” she said.

Prior to the shutdown, Trump told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer he would shut down the government if Congress and the Senate did not approve funding for a wall and said he would take credit for the shutdown. Trump’s eventual capitulation and his low public approval ratings seem to point to a major loss for the president.

Pressley said she supports further negotiations with the president on border security but will not support the construction of a wall.

“I will not support any compromise that further emboldens this administration’s racist immigration policies or exacerbates what is already a very dire humanitarian crisis at our border,” she said.

The federal workers with whom Pressley spoke are also against a wall, she added.

“Not one person in that room supports a wall,” she said. “No matter how dire their circumstances, workers have repeatedly said, ‘No wall.’”


Pressley says she has filed legislation, co-sponsored with Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith, that would give back pay to federal contractors who, unlike employees of the federal government, are not entitled to back pay under the current law.

“Right now there is no legislative mechanism to protect food service workers, security workers, custodians,” Pressley said. “These are hourly low-wage workers who have already been struggling in this economy and so this shutdown has only further exacerbated that work.”

Shahriar said he and other federal employees planned to report to work on Monday, although as of Saturday, he had not received any communication from a supervisor at the then-shuttered federal Department of Housing and Urban Development where he works.

“I just plan on showing up on Monday,” he said. “I assume that’s what they want us to do.”