Government Unions Sue For Unpaid Wages During Shutdown

A group of federal employee unions have filed suit against the Trump Administration, accusing the government of violating federal labor laws during the government shutdown, The Hill reports.

Government Shutdown Means No Pay For “Essential” Employees

On Saturday, January 19, the government shutdown will become the longest in U.S. history, extending to 22 days as President Trump and Democrats in Congress remain split over Trump’s request for $5 billion to fund a border wall. About 25% of the federal government is affected, and there’s no end in sight, as Congressional Democrats and President Trump seem satisfied to remain locked in conflict for the foreseeable future.

Air Traffic Controller

Unions Join Forces To Win Backpay, Unpaid Overtime

Despite the shutdown, federal employees deemed “essential” are still required to work, and union advocates say they’re working without pay. The National Federation of Federal Employees, the National Association of Government Employees and the National Weather Service Employees Organization say that’s illegal.

In a new 19-page complaint filed on Friday, January 11, 2018, the union organizers accuse the federal government of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to pay workers overtime and minimum wage.

In court documents, representatives for the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) argue that federal labor law requires that the vast majority of federal employees are entitled to be paid the minimum wage for all hours worked and overtime wages for their extra hours.

“In this country, when a worker performs a day’s work, he or she is entitled to a day’s worth of compensation,” said NFFE National President Randy Erwin in a press statement. “That is how working people provide for their families,” Erwin continued. “Because of the chaos this wasteful government shutdown is causing, the government is trying to pay people with I.O.U.s. With this lawsuit, we’re saying, ‘No, you can’t pay workers with I.O.U.s. That will not work for us.”

Unions File Suit En Masse

This isn’t the first overtime lawsuit to take on the federal government during the shutdown. At least three other federal unions – the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees – have sued the Trump Administration, saying the workers they represent are toiling without pay.

National Air Traffic Controller Association

On day 21 of the shutdown, representatives for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) filed suit against the federal government, but in this case, the union made a constitutional argument, citing the “due process” clause of the 5th Amendment.

In court filings, the union argued that the federal government is in violation of the 5th Amendment because it “unlawfully deprived NATCA members of their earned wages without due process.” The lawsuit also alleges violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, a federal law that governs minimum wage and overtime protections for American workers.

“On behalf of its members, NATCA seeks an order requiring the government to pay its members for the work they have performed as well as liquidated damages,” the union said in a press release. Liquidated damages can be granted under the Fair Labor Standards Act, effectively doubling the amount of unpaid wages owed to an employee.

National Treasury Employees Union

The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) has also filed suit, seeking backpay, overtime wages and financial damages on behalf of “excepted” employees who have been required to work during the shutdown. Filed on behalf of Albert Vieira, a Customs and Border Protection officer, the lawsuit has been registered in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

“These civil servants took an oath to the Constitution, and they do not deserve to be treated this way,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said in a press statement. “NTEU will continue to fight in the courts and on Capitol Hill to end the shutdown and ensure that all employees are fairly compensated.”

American Federation Of Government Employees

The American Federation of Government Employees filed its own lawsuit against the government on December 31, 2018. The lawsuit follows a similar model to the other claims against the Trump Administration, basing its allegations in the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The lawsuit’s named plaintiffs are Justin Tarovisky and Grayson Sharp, both employees at the Bureau of Prisons, who worked at least one day during the government shutdown but did not receive compensation reflected their labor in their last paychecks.

A series of similar lawsuits were filed during the 16-day government shutdown in 2013.


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