WASHINGTON – A U.S. District Court judge on Monday is scheduled to hear arguments on suits filed by two federal employees’ unions, alleging it is illegal for the government to require employees to work without pay.
The suits – filed by the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union – were filed in response to the federal government shutdown ending Nov. 19.
During that Nov. 14-19 shutdown, about 800,000 federal workers across the nation were furloughed after President Clinton and congressional leaders were unable to reach an agreement on a budget-cutting plan.
In its suit, the NTEU claims the government’s requirement that some federal employees report to work without pay when spending bills have lapsed violates federal labor and pay laws.
The suit also asks the court to declare unconstitutional a law shifting authority on critical spending decisions from Congress to the president, NTEU general counsel Gregory O’Duden said.
Judge Emmet G. Sullivan from the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., will hear the case.
Lawyers for the government argue that Congress approved bills providing payment for all federal workers during two shutdowns: the one in November and another from Dec. 16 to Jan. 5. During the second shutdown, about 280,000 non-essential employees were told to stay home, according to the Office of Management and Budget.
The government’s lawyers also argue it is constitutional for the president to make critical spending decisions.
About 1.2 million people worked without pay during the first shutdown and about 480,000 during the second shutdown. All were paid after each shutdown ended.
However, because of the length of the second furlough, pay checks came late, O’Duden wrote in a court brief. Many employees “were required to incur debt, and suffered other disruptions resulting from the financial uncertainty caused by the continuing budget crisis,” he wrote. Another stopgap government funding bill expires Friday at midnight, but Congress and the president were expected to take action to prevent another government shutdown. -30-