More than 13,400 Bay Area Department of Energy laboratory workers -- including 1,500 at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park -- could miss out on back pay if the federal shutdown continues.
The workers are contractors for the government, not full-time employees, and they're still working, despite the federal shutdown. But if deadlock in Congress continues, they may be furloughed without the ability to collect back pay, according to U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo.
Ms. Eshoo and a contingent of Bay Area congressional representatives, including Eric Swalwell, Barbara Lee, and Zoe Lofgren, are urging DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz to work with the White House to allow the national laboratories to provide the back pay once the federal government reopens.
The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act, H.R. 3223, by a vote of 407-0. The bill compensates all federal employees who would not otherwise receive their full salaries due to the shutdown, but lab employees will not be compensated because they are not federal employees, Ms. Eshoo said.
Mr. Swalwell represents Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore. If the government shutdown continues, 7,500 government contractors at these labs will be furloughed without pay beginning Oct. 18. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is located in Ms. Lee's congressional district, and Ms. Lofgren has been a longtime supporter of national laboratories and fusion research conducted at the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore.
"They are our nation's premier scientists and engineers who daily are engaged in cutting-edge research that is changing the world," Ms. Eshoo said. "To add insult to injury these employees are not entitled to back pay if they're furloughed because they are employees of an operator of a federal facility, not the federal government.
"I urge Secretary Moniz to authorize Department of Energy funds for furloughed national lab employees to ensure that our nation's brightest receive their pay, and that labs like SLAC can continue to recruit and retain the best minds in the world,"
In the past, the Department of Energy has treated lab employees the same as their federal counterparts. When Secretary Steven Chu instituted a DOE-wide pay freeze, lab employees were included along with federal workers, the representatives noted.
"Lab employees have expressed their concerns about the uncertainty they face and the economic hardship which would be caused by furloughs. Their mortgage payments, car payments, and other monthly bills will continue even though they will not be receiving a paycheck. Putting lab employees through this economic difficulty is neither right nor necessary," the representatives stated in their letter.