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US federal contractors fight for back pay after shutdown

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With the U.S. government shutdown over, Lila Johnson returns to work on Friday cleaning bathrooms as an employee of a federal contractor, but unlike those who work directly for the government, she is not getting any of the pay she lost during the month-long hiatus.

Johnson, 71, and other union members joined congressional lawmakers on Tuesday in pushing for legislation that would provide back pay to low-wage government contract workers who went unpaid during the 35-day shutdown

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“I’m a little furious. Why can’t we be paid? We work hard too,” said Johnson, who commutes an hour each way to the federal office building where she works, helping to support two great grandchildren, ages 6 and 14.

President Donald Trump, whose demand for funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border triggered the shutdown, signed legislation that makes back pay available for 800,000 federal employees. But that legislation did not include government contractors.

A bill introduced by Senator Tina Smith, a Democrat from Minnesota, would make back pay available to low-wage workers who are employed by outside government contractors, including janitors, cafeteria workers and security guards. A similar bill has been introduced in the House.

“They clean office buildings and keep us safe and secure and serve millions of meals a year,” Smith said during a press conference at the Capitol. “Why should these hardworking people be forced to pay the price of the shutdown themselves?”

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It was not clear how many contract workers provide services to the federal government, though some estimates run into the millions.

The Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, which represents Johnson and nearly 600 other contract employees, said its workers earn some of the lowest wages in the federal government.

“They live from paycheck to paycheck,” said Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU. “Even if they return to work, if they don’t get this money back their lives are going to be impacted dramatically forever.”

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De’Von Russell, a security guard at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, said he does not see why contract employees should be treated differently than government employees.

“Let’s not just flush our money down the toilet. We deserve it just like everybody else,” he said.

Johnson said the school that her two great grandchildren attend provided donated winter clothes to the boys, and she had to cash in a life insurance policy during the shutdown. She said going back to work will not make up for what she lost.

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“Pay our back pay. That’s the only way I am going to see myself getting out of the hole, because I am so far in debt,” she said.

Reporting by Katharine Jackson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker


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Millions around the world joined #ClimateStrike — demanding bold climate action

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Masses of children skipped school Friday to join a global strike against climate change that teen activist Greta Thunberg said was "only the beginning" in the fight against environmental disaster.

Some four million people filled city streets around the world, organizers said, in what was billed as the biggest ever protest against the threat posed to the planet by rising temperatures.

Youngsters and adults alike chanted slogans and waved placards in demonstrations that started in Asia and the Pacific, spread across Africa, Europe and Latin America, before culminating in the United States where Thunberg rallied.

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Trump announces new sanctions on Iran — and deploys US troops to the Middle East

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The United States announced Friday that it was sending military reinforcements to the Gulf region following attacks on Saudi oil facilities that it attributes to Iran, just hours after President Donald Trump ordered new sanctions on Tehran.

Trump said the sanctions were the toughest-ever against another country, but indicated he did not plan a military strike, calling restraint a sign of strength.

The Treasury Department renewed action against Iran's central bank after US officials said Tehran carried out weekend attacks on rival Saudi Arabia's oil infrastructure, which triggered a spike in global crude prices.

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‘Do a lot of stupid sh*t as quickly as possible’: Ambassador Power breaks down ’The Trump Doctrine’

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The former ambassador to the United Nations explained "The Trump Doctrine" during a Friday evening interview with comedian Bill Maher on HBO's "Real Time."

Samantha Power, the author of the new book, The Education of an Idealist, was asked by Maher about the foreign policy mantra of the Obama administration.

"Obama's foreign policy doctrine was famously summarized as 'don't do stupid sh*t," Maher noted. "Trump's, of course, is 'Do stupid sh*t.'"

"Do stupid sh*t as quickly as possible," Power clarified.

Watch:

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