Fighting for Federal Employees and Low-Wage Federal Contract Workers

Fighting for Federal Employees and Low-Wage Federal Contract Workers

Standing with Federal Employees

Norton, a senior member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has jurisdiction over federal employees, made special efforts to protect these repeatedly beleaguered employees during perhaps the worst year in decades for federal employees, when hundreds of thousands faced both sequester furloughs with loss of pay and a third year of pay freezes.  The President, by executive order, raised federal employee pay by 1% for 2014, but they will never recover the losses to their wages and pensions.  Norton was particularly outraged that Member pay was excluded from sequestration after a controversial interpretation of sequester legislation.  She not only introduced a bill to subject Member pay to any future sequestration, she also pledged to match the highest number of furlough days by any federal agency in fiscal year 2013 with a donation of her pay to the Federal Employee Education & Assistance Fund, which provides no-interest loans and grants to federal employees experiencing financial hardships. 

Shoring up Federal Employees

Norton, who represents many federal employees, also introduced a series of bills to bring increased stability and fairness to federal employees.  Most important was her bill to overturn an unprecedented federal court decision that strips federal employees of their due process right to independent review of agency decisions removing them from jobs on national security grounds.  Support for Norton’s due process bill grew when a bipartisan group of Senators – Jon Tester (D-MT), Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) – introduced a companion bill earlier this month, giving the bill a good chance of passage.  Norton also introduced another bill to subject Congress and its legislative branch agencies to health and safety standards and civil rights laws that currently apply to executive branch agencies and private sector employers, but not to Congress and legislative branch agencies.  In an effort to give federal employees more economic security, Norton introduced a bill, at no cost to the federal government, to give federal employees short-term disability insurance for up to a year if they become injured or ill because of a non-work related injury or illness.  Norton believes she may be able to move these bills because they do not add to the deficit, but offer general fairness to federal employees.

Gaining Ground Towards Livable Wages for Low-Wage Workers in Federal Facilities

Norton has been a leader in the effort to increase the wages of the federal government’s low-wage contract workers, who are paid by employers with contracts with federal agencies.  After standing in solidarity with federal contract workers protesting their low wages at demonstrations and strikes at federal buildings, Norton saw the first breakthrough this year when federal contract workers at several Smithsonian museums won union representation.  Following the federal government shutdown, Norton introduced a bill to grant back pay to low-income federally contracted retail, food, custodial and security service workers who were furloughed during the shutdown, just as furloughed federal employees received back pay.   She wrote a letter to the President that was sent by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, of which she is a member, on the low wages paid by federal government contractors, which results in millions of workers nationwide who are barely able to support themselves and whose low wages undermine the nation’s economic prosperity.  She pointed out that the federal government allows exploitative contract employers often to pass on to federal taxpayers the cost for health insurance and other benefits that private employers who offer decent wages generally cover.  Her letter recommends that the president establish a working group of federal agencies to consider suggestions, such as an executive order requiring that fair wages be a factor in the competition for federal contracts. 

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