The largest federal employee union on Thursday accused the government of violating labor law by failing to process paychecks for 420,000 “essential” workers who are toiling amid the partial government shutdown.
In a revised lawsuit, the American Federation of Government Employees said workers who guard prisons, patrol borders and perform other crucial tasks are poised to miss out Friday, the first scheduled payday of the partial shutdown that began Dec. 22 and centers on President Trump’s demands for border wall funding.
The union pointed to White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s own remarks from last weekend, in which he predicted that payroll would not be processed as scheduled.
AFGE is demanding back pay for essential employees, plus damages equal to minimum wage for hours worked and the full value of any overtime.
“Many of our employees struggle every day to make ends meet, and they cannot afford to miss even one paycheck,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said. “We will not stop until we get all of the government open and all of our employees back to work with full back pay.”
The crux of the argument is that employees who are working are entitled to their paychecks under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Lawyer Heidi Burakiewicz, who is representing the union, was able to secure damages for 25,000 workers after the last lengthy shutdown in 2013, although the government is still trying to process the payments.
This time around, union members initially filed suit over overtime payments that prison guards missed on the first day of the shutdown.
They decided to update their complaint after the first pay cycle, since the range of affected employees and potential damages is now far greater.
Mr. Trump is traveling to the southern border on Thursday to make the case for his border wall.
Democrats have refused to agree to the $5 billion-plus that Mr. Trump is demanding and say the president stormed out of negotiations Wednesday, leaving no end in sight to the impasse.
A separate lawsuit says the uncertain length of the government shutdown raises questions about the constitutionality of federal rules that label essential employees as “AWOL” if they refuse to report to work or prohibit a range of federal employees from finding side jobs where they’ll be paid.
The complaint, filed late Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, says five unnamed workers at the Transportation, Justice, Agriculture and Homeland Security departments have been harmed by those limits.
Plaintiff’s lawyers argue the limits should be deemed invalid because the government isn’t even paying for the workers’ services.
The suit says the rules are especially out of bounds for a fifth plaintiff, “John Doe 2,” who is furloughed and doing nothing at the moment.
They want the court to bar Mr. Trump and Cabinet secretaries from requiring workers to report for duty without pay or imposing punishment — beyond a furlough — against workers who refuse to report during the shutdown.
The court, they added, should also let the plaintiffs seek work outside of their federal jobs during the shutdown.
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