When Big Brother forces you to work without pay

As previously reported, there have been a number of lawsuits filed by groups of government workers who are required to stay on the job during the shutdown despite not being paid. In an effort to speed up this process, a judge has now ordered that several suits will be combined into one so they can all be heard promptly. (Government Executive)

A federal judge on Tuesday will hear arguments on whether to issue a temporary restraining order blocking federal agencies from ordering employees to report to work without prompt pay during the partial government shutdown.

Last week, the National Treasury Employees Union, National Air Traffic Controllers Association and five federal workers each filed legal challenges against the practice of excepting some employees from a lapse in appropriations, arguing it violates the Fifth and 13th amendments of the U.S. Constitution. They also claimed that the Trump administration’s efforts to make the shutdown “as painless as possible” violate the Anti-Deficiency Act.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon consolidated the three cases on Friday and scheduled a hearing for arguments over whether to issue a temporary restraining order against federal agencies for Monday, although that was postponed until Tuesday due to snow.

This normally doesn’t turn into much of an issue because shutdowns have never lasted this long. Given that we’re now well over three weeks into this one with no end in sight, it’s high time to address something fundamentally wrong with our policies regarding public sector employees and the impact federal government shutdowns have on them.

First of all, I’d like to point out that this question has nothing to do with politics, or at least it shouldn’t. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Republican, Democrat or independent. You can support the wall or oppose it, love the President or hate him. This is a basic question of human decency fundamental rights.

We have people at the TSA and air traffic controllers at our nation’s airports (among others) who are being told they have to continue showing up for work and are getting paychecks worth precisely zero dollars. It’s true that each of these workers will have all of their pay restored to them when they eventually return to work, but that’s not the issue here. When you tell American citizens that they have no choice but to show up for work and then you don’t pay them, that practice is virtually indistinguishable from slavery.

I’m not talking about workers who have been furloughed. Whether you’re in the public or private sector, there are times when you may be let go from your job, either permanently or temporarily. That’s a reality that all employees face and the government workers deserve no special protection that private sector employees don’t receive. (For that matter, I remain unsure why furloughed workers should immediately have their pay restored for time not worked.)

But if the government is allowed to tell workers that their jobs are “too valuable” or “too critical” to have them stay home, the workers should have an easy answer. If that’s the case, then we are too valuable for you not to pay us. The United States government currently runs on a policy where they are allowed to take thousands of workers and temporarily turn them into the equivalent of indentured servants. This policy should be changed as soon as Congress manages to get off its butt and return to work.