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Federal Employees Launch Lawsuits Over Shutdown
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10 Jan 2019 12:20 PM EST

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: U.S. Customers and Border Protection agents (Image source: Public domain)



It has to be difficult to be a federal employee right now. Not knowing how long the shutdown will last, when you'll get another check, how you're going to pay your bills, etc. And to know. It could have been prevented on top of it and that Donald Trump had said at one point that he would be "proud" to shut the government down would just be the final nail in the coffin. 

But the country just cannot cease to function, so some employees are being forced to continue working without pay. It's estimated that 400,000 federal employees  are working without pay.


This started in 2015 when Donald Trump announced he was running for president and started discussing the problem at the southern border of the United States. He then started mentioning that the country needed a wall at the border and that he was going to make Mexico pay for it.  

It became a cornerstone of his campaign and "Build that wall!" was chanted by his followers at rallies. It's been estimated that he mentioned having Mexico pay for the wall 200 times.


But the reality is that Mexico isn't going to pay for the wall. Trump soon found out that he had no jurisdiction to force another country to pay for something. At this point, instead of dropping the discussion, he decided that the U.S. taxpayers would pay for it. 

However, that's been a tough one for him, as he needs to get lawmakers to go along with that. He did get a little money at one point, but not nearly enough to build this monstrosity of a wall that he wants. He pushed the issue, insisting a wall be added to spending bills.


With no agreement in place, the government was forced to either shut down the entities that don't have a working budget or require the employees to work without pay. Those forced to work were deemed "essential" or "excepted."  

The National Treasury Employees Union is one of the groups working without pay. Two of its employees — Customs and Border Protection officers Eleazar Avalos and James Davis — are named as plaintiffs. The two are considered "essential," as they are "performing emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property."


Days after the shutdown began on December 22, the American Federation of Government Employees also filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration.  

The suit alleges that hundreds of thousands of federal workers are being forced, illegally, to work without pay. The two plaintiffs in that lawsuit, Justin Tarovisky and Grayson Sharp, are both corrections officers with the Federal Bureau of Prisons.


Tony Reardon, the president of the National Treasury Employees Union, that has 150,000 members at 33 federal agencies and departments, has called the shutdown a "travesty." 

"Federal employees should not have to pay the personal price for all of this dysfunction," he said.


The National Treasury Employees Union's general counsel, Greg Oduden, told The Washington Post that it now seems that tens of thousands of employees will not be paid. 

"I think there will be more people added as we move along," he added, "when they realize they're being shortchanged and damaged in a serious way."


The lawsuits are not without precedence. In 2013 the Obama administration shut down for a shorter period, 16 days, and they were sued under the argument that failure to pay federal workers on regularly scheduled paydays was a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. 

A court agreed and ordered the government to pay double the amount that the employees were owed. About 25,000 employees are still waiting for that amount.


This means Trump shut the government down when they are already in debt for owing employees for the last shutdown. There is no money for that.  

And now he closed it again with the desire to force lawmakers to provide him with border wall funding. And even if he still does that, they will still need to find the money to pay these people for the time they worked for free, as well as pay them for the last time this happened. He wants money for his wall, so he is forcing employees to go without being paid. But after the shutdown, there will be no money to pay the employees, whether or not he gets his border wall funding.


Tuesday night Trump appeared on national TV blaming the "humanitarian and security crisis" on the Democrats. He said they "refused to provide our brave border agents with the tools they desperately need to protect our families and our nation." 

Meanwhile, he's denying those same agents their pay.

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