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Back pay for federal contractors missing from government funding bill

"They were all collateral damage, innocent victims," Republican Rep. Peter King said.
Image: Federal air traffic controller union members protest the partial U.S. federal government shutdown in a rally at the U.S. Capitol in Washington
Federal air traffic controller union members protest the partial U.S. federal government shutdown in a rally at the Capitol on January 10, 2019.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters file

Congress passed a deal to avoid another government funding lapse Thursday night, but the bill — which President Donald Trump is expected to sign — doesn't offer any relief for the hundreds of thousands of government contractors who were forced to go without pay during the 35-day shutdown.

"These were all collateral damage, innocent victims," Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told MSNBC of the contractors, adding that they were "part of a fight that never made sense from the start."

The exact number of contract workers who were affected is unclear. It's been estimated that 1.2 million people — from highly paid engineers working with NASA to low-paid cafeteria workers — were affected, though some were able to work on other jobs.

Among those who weren't paid during the longest shutdown in U.S. history and now aren't getting back pay are 2,000 workers for SourceAmerica, which places employees with a wide range of disabilities through a nationwide nonprofit network.

"We're very disappointed there wasn't a provision for contractors. Our ask all along is they be treated with the same respect as the folks they work alongside every day," John Kelly, vice president of government affairs and public policy at SourceAmerica, told NBC News.

"For many individuals with disabilities, having a job is one of the most important aspects of their life," Kelly added.

One of those affected was Fred Pickett, who has worked as a mail clerk at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C., for more than 27 years.

"I still haven't gotten my back pay," Pickett, 63, said. "I just think it's unfair. We should be getting the same treatment as the other workers."

He is relieved to be back at work again. "I was bored being at home, plus I missed my co-workers and supervisors," he said.

While Trump and some Republicans have said they're opposed to shelling out back pay for contractors — something that was not done in prior shutdowns either — Kelly said there are "still multiple bills that are active" in Congress, and "we'll continue to work with those sponsors."