Federal Employee Union Says Not Paying ‘Mission-Essential’ Workers Is Illegal

Some federal employees, including Border Patrol and ICE agents who still have to work, but aren’t being payed during the government shutdown.

By Michael MarksJanuary 4, 2019 11:52 am

The partial government shutdown is now two weeks old. Over 800,000 federal employees have gone without a paycheck during that time, and it’s unclear when they’ll be paid again. Although the new Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed a spending package to reopen many federal agencies, it didn’t include money for the border wall, so it’s unlikely to pass, or even be considered, in the Republican-controlled Senate, much less get the president’s signature.

It’s created a dire situation for some federal employees, some of whom are still on the job despite not getting paid. As a result, the American Federation of Government Employees, or AFGE, recently sued the U.S. government, claiming that forcing people to work without compensation is illegal.

Cheryl Eliano is a Killeen-based district vice president for AFGE, and says having these employees work without pay is unacceptable.

“It’s just a blatant violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act,” Eliano says.

While 800,000 federal workers are out of work overall, there are about 420,000 “mission-essential” workers who still have to work, but without pay. She says these are people who do some of the most dangerous jobs in the federal government like correctional officers, Border Patrol agents, Transportation Security Administration staff and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

“They’re putting their lives on the line to keep our country safe, and they’re not getting paid,” Eliano says.

She says the union is hoping that the shutdown will end this week, in particular because the shutdown is affecting raises for union members.

“We’re supposed to get a raise this month – a 1.9 [percent] raise,” Eliano says. “And of course, you know, we fought for that. So this affects a whole lot of other things. … We need them to end the shutdown and sign the funding bill.”

Written by Caroline Covington.