WASHINGTON – A major federal workers union has filed a collective action suit against the federal government over the ongoing shutdown – a move that could put taxpayers on the hook for large payouts as the ongoing stalemate between Congress and the White House continues.
Zachary Henige, an attorney working on the case, said he doesn’t have an exact number on how many workers had joined the suit, but said it was likely in the thousands. He added the firm has received hundreds of emails from federal workers coming in every hour.
“As shutdown continues, that’s going to really impact that number,” Henige said.
He added that employees from the Bureau of Prisons, National Park Service and Transportation Security Administration were among those who had contacted the firm to inquire about the collective action case.
The suit filed on Dec. 31 claims that those workers who earned overtime on Dec. 22, 2018 were not paid on time and are therefore entitled to liquidated damages. The shutdown began on Dec. 21 at midnight.
J. David Cox Sr., national president of American Federation of Government Employees -- the group that filed the complaint -- said in a press release that requiring employees to work without pay is “inhumane.” The AFGE is the one spearheading the collective action case, which was filed by the law firm Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch – the same law firm that won a similar case regarding the 2013 shutdown — is spearheading the legal effort. In that case, workers were awarded double pay for the time of their missed pay period.
Heidi Burakiewicz, the attorney who represented workers in the 2013 case, said that forcing federal employees to work without pay violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, a Great Depression-era law that states delayed paychecks, including overtime pay, entitles workers to liquidated damages. Her firm is making the same case for the most recent shutdown.
The next payday for federal workers is set for Jan. 11, but if the shutdown continues, they will not receive those checks ,on time either.
“Approximately 420,000 federal employees are continuing to work, but don’t know when they will get their next paychecks,” said Burakiewicz in a press release. “This is not an acceptable way for any employer, let alone the U.S. government, to treat its employees.”
The shutdown began when Congress and the White House failed to come to a final spending agreement due to a clash over the border wall. President Trump stood firm on his demand that funding be allocated for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, which Democrats refused to allow.
The complaint was filed in the same court and before the same judge who oversaw the case regarding the 2013 shutdown, which the firm sees as a good sign since there’s already precedent.