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David Elliot's picture

Donna Kelly has bills to not pay.

$386 for her car note. $198.26 for her car insurance. $52.50 for her cellphone service. $119.75 for Pepco.

But Kelly, a security guard at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art, won’t be paying all of those bills any time soon. She was laid off on Jan. 1 from her $15.72-an-hour job as part of the Trump Government Shutdown.

Kelly, who shared her story this week with the Washington Post, is a bit different and a bit worse off than the 800,000 workers directly employed by the federal government who either have been furloughed or are working, but without pay, as the shutdown enters Day 20.

Kelly is a contracted worker. And although federal employees in past shutdowns have received pay retroactively after the shutdowns ended, workers paid by private firms with federal contracts have not.

No one seems to have an exact figure on how many lower-income contract workers have been affected by the shutdown. But in the D.C. area, the number appears to be at least in the low thousands. Some work as janitors, as food service workers in the many cafeterias that serve federal buildings, including museums, throughout D.C., and as guards such as Kelly. Some are in research or other white collar fields.

To be certain, they are not receiving as much attention as other federal workers – and many are living life on the edge.

UNITE HERE is a union that represents 270,000 members working in the hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry, transportation, and airport industries in the U.S. and Canada. Included in their membership are about 500 cafeteria workers in D.C. companies with federal contracts affected by the shutdown. The union warns that losing multiple weeks of pay can result in long-term crisis, including loss of stable housing, and a lapse in health care benefits can wreak long-term financial consequences.

Lisa Earle is a Smithsonian worker and member of UNITE HERE Local 23.

“I live pay check to pay check like nearly all of my coworkers, and I’m scared that with losing weeks of income and my health care benefits, one family emergency for myself, my children, or my grandchildren during Donald Trump’s shutdown could make us homeless,” Early said in a statement. “It’s not fair that politicians playing games put me out of work, and it’s even worse that my coworkers and I may never get back pay for the shutdown when we’re just as impacted as all other federal workers.”

UNITE HERE is calling for workers such as Earle to be able to continue to receive health care benefits, and the union is calling for back pay to be provided once the shutdown ends.

“Immigrant families shouldn’t be treated as pawns in a government shutdown, and UNITE HERE federal workers shouldn’t be carved out of eligibility for back pay when they have been forced out of work for Trump’s political agenda and are staring down the reality of not knowing if they’ll be facing eviction next month or will even have health coverage,” said D. Taylor, International President of UNITE HERE. “Thousands of federal and contracted workers represented by many different unions are suffering from Trump’s shutdown, and all of them deserve to return to work immediately, have maintained health care benefits, and to be fully compensated with back pay for the time they were kept out.”

But even if the workers receive back pay, which is far from certain, and even if they are able to maintain their access to health care, there for now the fear and emotional exhaustion with which they must contend as they face Day 20 of the Trump Government Shutdown.

“I tell myself it’s going to get better, but the question is when,” Kelly told the Washington Post. “You find yourself not sleeping well at night. I’m constantly wondering when this nightmare will end.”

Stay tuned as Voices for Human Needs will continue to explore the harmful impact of the Trump Government Shutdown. And be sure and check out our Trump Shutdown resource page.

Cross-posted from CHN's Voices for Human Needs.

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