Federal workers have had enough of the useless and rancorous Trump shutdown and they’ve decided to do something about it.
Rather than take to the streets in protest like the French “yellow vest” movement has done, one of the largest unions representing government employees has taken a very litigious American approach to the situation and filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration asserting the illegality of requiring people to work without pay.
The American Federation of Government Employees union (AFGE) released a statement today announcing its lawsuit as the shutdown has extended well into its second week.
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The president of AFGE, J. David Cox Sr., expressed outrage at the government mandate that “essential employees” continue to perform their duties despite the fact that the federal executive branch is no longer authorized to issue paychecks without the approval of funding by Congress in a appropriations bill that Trump will either need to sign or have his veto overridden by a supermajority of the legislature.
“Our members put their lives on the line to keep our country safe,” Cox said in the release. “Requiring them to work without pay is nothing short of inhumane. Positions that are considered ‘essential’ during a government shutdown are some of the most dangerous jobs in the federal government.”
While those government workers not deemed essential are placed on furlough during the partial shutdown and will receive no pay for the time they are not at work unless it is specifically authorized by Congress, federal employees whose work is considered “excepted” are expected to work and receive their pay in arrears after the government reopens.
The law firm representing the union, Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch, is claiming that this practice is not within the legal authority of the government to continue.
“Approximately 420,000 federal employees are continuing to work, but don’t know when they will get their next paychecks. This is not an acceptable way for any employer, let alone the U.S. government, to treat its employees. These employees still need to pay childcare expenses, buy gas, and incur other expenses to go to work every day and yet, they are not getting paid. It is a blatant violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act,” a partner at the firm, Heidi Burakiewicz, said in the release.
According to the guidelines of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management:
“Excepted employees include employees who are performing emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property or performing certain other types of excepted work. Agency legal counsels, working with senior agency managers, determine which employees are designated to be handling “excepted” and “non-excepted” functions.”
Many presidential appointees fall into neither the “excepted” nor the “non-excepted” categories since they are “not subject to furlough because their salary is an obligation incurred by the year, without consideration of hours of duty required, so they cannot be placed in a nonduty, nonpay status.”
Federal employee unions have more than the government shutdown to worry about right now. They will also have to fight for their constituents against President Trump’s announcement that he was arbitrarily canceling the scheduled 2.1 percent pay raise federal employees were to begin receiving in 2019, a compensation bump that was actually below the current annual inflation rate.
The cancellation of that raise combined with the increase in inflation means that the affected employees will actually earn less in inflation-adjusted salaries than they did last year.
Meanwhile, the wealthiest Americans can relax with the knowledge that they still can enjoy the benefits of the massive tax cuts bestowed upon them by Republicans while the only cuts federal employees will see are to their standards of living.
How any working class American, whether they are employed by the government or by private industry, can still support Trump and his Republican cronies against their own economic interests at this point is a subject worthy of a federal research grant.
If only there was a federal agency open to which we could deliver the proposal.
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Original reporting by Owen Daughtery at The Hill.