Since the government shutdown (temporarily, at least) came to an end, Representative Ayanna Pressley introduced a bill – known as the Fair Compensation for Low-Wage Contractor Employees Act – which would provide back pay to contract employees just like those who work directly for the federal government.
“This is about dignity, this is about fairness, this is about justice,” Pressley said.
I agree with this statement, but not in the way Pressley meant it. True fairness would be for none of the employees furloughed during the shutdown to receive back pay.
After all, during the five weeks the federal government was shut down, neither contract employees nor federal employees were working. For them to get paid as if they were working this entire time is not fair to all of the other workers across the country – in the private sector and for state and local governments – who were not affected by the shutdown. It is even less fair to the government employees, such as TSA agents and air traffic controllers, who were forced to work without pay during the shutdown. Nor is it fair to taxpayers for the government to take their hard-earned money and use it to pay people for work they did not perform.
Yes, it is inconvenient to suddenly be furloughed from work. For people who do not have savings in the bank, it can be difficult or impossible to pay bills. But there is no right to receive continuous employment and pay from the federal government. The government has every right to discontinue, either temporarily or permanently, any federal job(s). This is disappointing for the affected employees, but it is a risk that people assume when they work for the federal government. There is nothing unfair about it.
Additionally, for people to temporarily or permanently lose their jobs is something that happens in the private sector all the time and is not treated as a tragedy but simply part of the economy. Every day, companies go out of business, lay off workers, cut their hours, or furlough them based on changing market conditions. The vast majority of time, newspapers do not run front page articles about the suffering faced by these workers and their families. Restaurants did not offer free meals to racetrack employees when it was announced that Suffolk Downs lost out on the casino license and was going to be closing. No one has suggested paying workers at the now-closed Necco plant for all the weeks they would be working had the factory remained open. But that’s exactly what is happening for federal employees. Being out of work is a hardship for anyone. Why should government workers be exempt?
Supporters of back pay say that government employees should be compensated for the wages that they missed out on. But giving people full pay for not working goes way beyond compensating them. It is the equivalent of giving them five extra weeks of paid vacation. It is a windfall, a boon, a reward, a huge extra benefit, delivered at taxpayers’ expense and denied to the federal employees forced to work without pay as well as to all other workers across the country. Furloughed government employees got to have five weeks of free time, which they could spend pursuing their hobbies, resting, exercising, or doing anything they wanted. True, they did not choose this free time and most would likely have preferred to continue working than to miss out on their paychecks. But this does not change the fact that to pay them for this time is completely unfair to everyone else who spent the time working.