Shutdown is causing harm to government employees

Attorney/Plaintiff Contact: Rachel Hamrick (202) 236-1374
AFGE Contact: Ashley De Smeth (202) 716-5157

December 31, 2018

Washington D.C. – Today, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch (KCNF DC) sued the federal government on behalf of AFGE members and federal employees being forced to work without pay. The lawsuit alleges that the federal government is violating the law by requiring some federal employees to work without pay during a shutdown. These employees perform a variety of dangerous roles: correctional officers, Border Patrol and ICE agents, transportation security officers, and other employees who are labeled as “essential.”

“Our members put their lives on the line to keep our country safe,” said J. David Cox Sr., national president, American Federation of Government Employees, “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. They are frontline public safety positions, including many in law enforcement, among other critical roles. A substantial number of those working without pay are military veterans. Our nation’s heroes, AFGE members and their families deserve the decency of knowing when their next paycheck is coming and that they will be paid for their work. Our intent is to force the government and the administration to make all federal employees whole.”

“The harm to federal employees began at the first moment of the shutdown. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees are working under sometimes dangerous conditions, including the plaintiffs who were forced to work overtime without pay,” said Heidi Burakiewicz, partner at KCNF DC. “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.”

The lawsuit is brought on behalf of all “essential” federal employees, those who are required to work without pay during the shutdown. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP), and the high security penitentiaries where the named plaintiffs work, USP Hazelton and USP Canaan, are egregiously understaffed, often requiring employees to work large amounts of overtime in some of the most dangerous prisons in the country. USP Hazelton has been the site of three inmate murders in less than seven months. The shutdown and conditions under which the federal government is requiring these employees and others to work puts lives at risk and endangers our communities.

After the 2013 shutdown, approximately 25,000 essential federal employees, represented by Heidi Burakiewicz, now a partner with KCNF, sued the government, arguing that the Fair Labor Standards Act requires that all employees, including federal employees, be paid on time for their services. In 2014, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims agreed and, in 2017, the court held further that the employees were entitled to twice their back pay because of the violation. However, even while the government is calculating the damages to those approximately 25,000 employees, the Office of Personnel Management has not required that essential federal employees be paid on time during the current shutdown.

Read the complaint here