Judge refuses to force government to pay federal employees working without pay during US shutdown

  • On Tuesday, a federal judge in Washington refused to force the government to pay employees who have been working without pay during the last three weeks of the government shutdown.
  • Labour unions had argued that unpaid work by federal employees during the shutdown violates labour laws and the US Constitution.
  • US District Judge Richard J. Leon said it would “create chaos and confusion” to force the government to pay workers before the shutdown is over.

A federal judge in Washington wont force the US government to pay federal employees who’ve continued to work during the shutdown, despite labour unions arguing that such unpaid work violates labour laws.

Due to the partial government shutdown, around 800,000 federal employees have lost their paychecks for the last 25 days. An estimated 420,000 of them are actively working without pay.

A number of unions representing some of these workers have sued the government, including the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) which represents 22,790 air traffic controllers who’ve been working without pay. In its suit, the NATCA alleged that “the government unlawfully deprived NATCA members of their earned wages without due process,” thus violating the Fifth Amendment.

The National Treasure Employees Union similarly sued the government, saying that “tens of thousands” of its members are considered “essential” employees and have continued to work without pay.

Other unionized employees who have continued to work without pay include workers at the Internal Revenue Service, Customs and Border Protection, and the Food and Drug Administration. The two unions – as well as a number of government employees – have filed suits against the White House.

But on Tuesday, US District Court Judge Richard J. Leon struck the lawsuits down. According to the Washington Post, Leon said it would be “profoundly irresponsible” to issue an order that he said would result in thousands of employees staying home from work.

“At best it would create chaos and confusion,” Leon said. “At worst it could be catastrophic … I’m not going to put people’s lives at risk.”


Read more:
Air traffic controllers haven’t been paid since the government shutdown began, and now their union is suing the federal government

The Post reported that Leon declined to issue a temporary restraining order that would compel the government to pay its workers. According to the Post, Molly A. Elkin, an attorney working on the NATCA lawsuit, asked the judge to drop his “legal hammer on the defendants” so the government and the president could “get their hands out of the pockets of the air traffic controllers.”

“We need you, judge, to give this workforce hope that at least one branch of the American government has their back,” she said.

Greg O’Duden, the general counsel for the NTEU, told the Post he had hoped Leon would rule in the unions’ favour.

“What we have here is the executive branch making people go to work, not paying them, but yet is giving out IOUs,” O’Duden said. “You can’t do that. It’s a violation of the appropriations clause of the Constitution.”

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