Janitors cleaning mop and bucket

The hundreds of thousands of federal contract workers were among those celebrating the end of the brief government shutdown this week, according to WAMU reporting. But the possibility of another one in February highlights the lack of security for these employees.

Low-wage federal contractors, like cleaning crews and groundskeepers, will probably get more unwanted time off. Their positions are rarely considered essential, so they are typically the first employees told not to report to work, according to WAMU.

“Some of us are living paycheck to paycheck,” federal contractor Sheila Collier, who is a cleaner at the Department of Agriculture, said in the article. “We have families to take care of — rent, mortgages.”

Collier, 67, has worked at the Agriculture building for more than 30 years. In 2013, when the shutdown lasted for several weeks, some of her colleagues faced missed payments and overdue bills.

“Some of them had to go out and file for unemployment,” she said.

Contractors can pay their furloughed employees, but it’s not mandatory.

“A contractor may bite the bullet and pay staff and keep morale up, but there is no requirement that [it] do so,” said John Cooney, an expert on shutdowns who practices law at Venable LLP.

In addition, the possibility of future shutdowns makes recruiting contractors for federal jobs tougher.

“I think the cumulative effect over time would probably be measurable, and it’s something that we’re concerned about here,” said David Berteau, who heads the Professional Services Council, an organization that represents more than 400 contracting firms.

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