January 15, 2019: A way out?

Two Federal employee unions, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) filed suits on behalf of Federal employees who have had to work during the shutdown but have not been paid (“essential” or “excepted” employees). The grounds for the suits are that these government workers are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires that workers get paid timely. However, under the Antideficiency Act, excepted employees cannot be paid until there is an appropriation.

I don’t know when these suits will be heard. However, if the judge rules in favor of the unions, there will be only two choices. Either no Federal employee who is in an Agency that isn’t funded works (including the TSA agents and Air Traffic Controllers) or an appropriation passes. If the airports have to shut down, the pressure to end the shutdown will be immense.

The only question that I have is this: does anyone know when these suits will be heard?

Follow up — According to the Washington Post, the judge could rule today.

From the Washington Post article:

Leon (the judge) said he planned to rule immediately from the bench — meaning he could issue a temporary restraining order compelling the government to pay its employees — a move that could affect the partial government shutdown and force movement in the White House or on Capitol Hill. In the event the government is forced to pay workers or allow them to go home, it could break the shutdown impasse or lead to critical jobs going vacant indefinitely.

“If he rules in our favor and determines it was unconstitutional for the government to require workers to come to work and not pay them, it should put pressure on political branches to come to some resolution and end the shutdown,” said Greg O’Duden, the general counsel for the National Treasury Employees Union, which has filed two lawsuits against the government.

Update. According to the Washington Post, the judge ruled against the unions. The shutdown continues…. 😦

A federal judge in Washington on Tuesday refused to force the government to pay federal employees who have been working without compensation during the partial government shutdown, rejecting arguments from labor unions that unpaid work violates labor laws and the Constitution.

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said it would be “profoundly irresponsible” to issue an order that 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.”

Leon ruled against a consolidated claim that the National Treasury Employees Union and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association filed against the government, alleging that employees should not be forced to work without pay. The list of unionized employees who have had to work with pay during the shutdown include the Internal Revenue Service, Customs and Border Protection, the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, the Agriculture Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Federal Communications Commission.

January 12, 2019: In the News

Early in the week, I traveled out of town to help my elderly mother, who was having cataract surgery. She likes to listen to the 7:00 am and 11:00 pm network news, and she has it loud, because she lives by herself and is hard of hearing. So at 7:00 am, I wake up to the newscaster talking about “no end to sight to the the partial Government shutdown”. It is very weird to be living the top news story. It isn’t happening to some people over there — it’s about you and your livelihood that’s on the news.

January 12, 2019: Why would young college graduates want to work for the Government now?

People are attracted to Federal Government jobs now because they want to serve the country but also because they perceive the benefits and stability of Government service. However, with the partial Government shutdown now entering into its fourth week (the longest shutdown ever!), where is the sense of stability. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m near the end of my Federal career, have funds stashed away, my child is grown and independent, and my only debt is my mortgage. However, for young people just getting started, with student debt and for slightly older workers with children to raise, daycare costs, and the like — what is the attraction to taking a job that might mean having your paycheck held hostage to political maneuvers?

I work in an office with a lot of Millennials in their early 30s. They are settling down, marrying, having babies. I’m wondering how many of them are looking for jobs in the private or nonprofit sector at this moment, brushing up their resumes and sending them out? How many will be leaving Federal service in the next few months? And who will replace them?

January 11: Free Food for Furloughed Feds

A number of restaurants are providing free food for furloughed Federal workers with ID. One of them is the restaurant empire owned by Jose Andres, which includes these restaurants. Any of the restaurants listed at the link will provide a free sandwich between 2:00 and 5:00 pm. The sandwich is a gourmet ham, but if you don’t eat pork, the restaurant will substitute cheese. Mine was delicious. The weird thing though was that you would look around and see other people eating the same sandwich and you knew they were in the same boat.

ham sandwich, courtesy of Jose Andres

January 11, 2019 — Some Background on US Government Shutdowns

Many people, particularly those reading from abroad, may be wondering why the United States Government has these “shutdowns”. This post will provide some background. A good description can also be found on Wikipedia.

The United States Congress appropriates funds for operating the United States Government. Like any other legislation, these appropriations must be passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate and then signed by the United States President. If the President vetoes them, both houses muster a two-thirds majority vote to override the veto.

The Antideficiency Act prevents the Government from entering into a contract that is not “fully funded”. If there is a lapse of appropriations, a Government Agency must suspend all operations that are not required to protect the safety of human life or the protection of property. Those employees performing such duties (such as TSA agents) are considered essential and must continue to work. Other employees, such as myself, are furloughed, which means that we are essentially locked out from our work. Once funds are restored, everyone goes back to work and essential employees receive back pay. For furloughed employees, Congress must vote (and the President sign) legislation to provide pay for the days that employees were furloughed.

There are 12 appropriations bills that must be passed every year. Since the Federal Fiscal Year begins on October 1, these bills must be passed and signed by September 30. Sometimes, all or many of these bills are combined into an “omnibus” appropriations bill. If bills are not enacted, Congress may enact a temporary “continuing resolution” which funds the Government for a set period of time, allowing Congress to pass a full-year appropriation.

For 2019, Congress passed some appropriations, such as the Department of Defense, Social Security, and Medicare. However, many other parts of Government were not covered under an appropriations bill and were funded under a Continuing Resolution that expired at midnight, Saturday, December 22. The President refuses to sign any appropriations bill (even a Continuing Resolution) that does not contain $5.7 billion for a border wall separating the United States and Mexico. The House of Representatives will not pass an appropriation that funds the border wall. The Senate will not vote on any appropriation that will not be signed by the President. All three parties are at an impasse, waiting to see who will blink first. And so here we are, on day 20 of this shutdown.

January 10, 2019: Two Stories

As I’ve mentioned before, I am extremely fortunate in that I have sufficient savings to ride out the shutdown should it continue for a while. I also have no debts other than my mortgage and no dependent children or pets. However, two colleagues of mine have problematical situations. They are not dire, life-and-death crises, but I’m concerned about them and hope that this shutdown ends so that these two individuals can move on.

The first colleague has three young children and a six-figure student debt. This colleague is married and the spouse is also employed, in the nonprofit sector, so there is at least one income still coming in. However, having one’s family income cut in half is no picnic. I suspect that a student loan payment can be delayed, but interest on the debt may accumulate. A second problem facing my colleague is what to do about daycare. Paying expensive day care costs seems foolish if one parent is out of work. However, countervailing that is the risk that one might lose the child’s slot in the day care. Also, my colleague does not know when we’ll all be called to report back to work. So the day care costs need to be paid.

The second colleague, at full retirement age, put in paperwork to retire on January 2 under the old Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). This link explains how the shutdown is affecting those who planned to retire but were in furlough status. It appears people in that situation will receive all benefits retroactively. The question is how long it will take for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to process everything and does this employee have enough in savings to ride it out until payments start to come in?

These two examples are real people. Highly educated people whose worlds are completely turned upside down by this very long and unnecessary shutdown.

January 10, 2019: Making my voice heard

I joined hundreds of other members of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the Services Employees International Union (SEIU), the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) and other groups for a rally near the White House. Besides Federal employees, other speakers included Senators Ben Cardin (MD), Chris Van Hollen (MD), Mark Warner (VA), Mazie Hirono (HI), and Bernie Sanders (VT).

All we are asking for is the chance for those of us who are furloughed to be allowed to return to work and those who are essential to get paid for the work that they are doing. I’m including a couple of links. The first is an article from the Washington Post. The second is a video from the NTEU’s Facebook page. Finally, I’ll include some photos that I took.

NTEU President Anthony Reardon
Senator Bernie Sanders
Marching by the White House

January 9, 2019: Make Your Voice Heard

I am posting this from my Federal employees’ union.

NTEU and other federal employee unions are conducting a rally to end the shutdown this Thursday, Jan. 10.


This shutdown has gone on too long. You and 800,000 federal employees are hurting and it is time to raise our voices and say “No More”. We need to send a message to Congress and the administration that a shutdown hurts American families and halts vital services for the public.

Join National President Tony Reardon, congressional leaders, other labor leaders, NTEU members and federal employees from across government to publicly call for an end to the shutdown, demand that federal employees be paid promptly, and that the federal workforce be given a pay raise this year.

Rally Details
Noon to 1 pm
Thursday (Jan. 10)
AFL-CIO Headquarters
815 16th St NW
Washington, D.C.

Nearest Metro stations are McPherson Square (Blue, Orange and Silver lines) and Farragut North (Red line).

Join us! If you are in the Washington, D.C., area bring your chapter members, family and friends. Wear your NTEU gear and be ready to get loud.

Not in DC? You can still make your voice heard. Plan to visit the NTEU Legislative Action Center on Thursday and send a message to Congress and the administration that you want the shutdown to end.