A federal workers’ union launched a lawsuit against the Trump administration on Monday, claiming the White House is illegally insisting that some government employees work without pay.
USA Today reports that the American Federation of Government Employees announced the lawsuit Monday, two weeks after Washington went into a partial shutdown.
The union—the largest representing federal employees in the nation—claims that hundreds of thousands of workers have been furloughed or forced to clock in for free. Among them are law enforcement agents and prison guards.
Both plaintiffs in the case, Justin Tarovisky and Grayson Sharp, work at high-security federal prisons run by the Department of Justice.
Along with the pair, AFGE represents about 700,000 federal employees.
“Our members put their lives on the line to keep our country safe,” said J. David Cox, Sr., the union’s national president. “Requiring them to work without pay is nothing short of inhumane.”
Federal workers whose jobs are considered essential or otherwise critical to the nation’s well-being are still required to work during government shutdowns. Oftentimes, ‘essential’ positions are those which require some degree of risk or sacrifice.
“Positions that are considered ‘essential’ during a government shutdown are some of the most dangerous jobs in the federal government,” Cox said in a statement. “They are front-line public safety positions, including many in law enforcement, among other critical roles. Our intent is to force the government and the administration to make all federal employees whole.”
Lead attorney Heidi Burakiewicz told the Washington Post that any uncertainty surrounding pay is intolerable.
“It’s outrageous the government expects them to work without knowing when they’ll get their next paycheck,” she said.
Like Cox, Burakiewicz says the sorts of “essential” employees retained during shut-downs are those often thought of as ‘traditional first-responders’—Border Patrol agents, law enforcement and federal firefighters.
Burakiewicz’s D.C.-based firm, Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch initiated the suit along with the AFGE.
The AFGE has sued the administration in the past and over a variety of issues, including major restructuring at the Department of Education. It’s still calculating pay it claims the federal governments owes employees after an Obama-era shut-down in 2013.
According to USA Today, the current partial shutdown went into effect on December 22nd. Congressional Democrats were unable to reach an agreement with President Donald Trump on certain aspects of the federal budget. Critically, the commander-in-chief demanded at least $5 billion in funding for an improved wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
While Democrats have offered border wall funding before—namely to expedite amnesty for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program—Trump has frequently reneged on deals or deemed offers inadequate.
Burkiewicz said the shutdown has little support among federal employees, who may feel their livelihoods are being used as a ‘political pawn.’ Surveys run by the Washington Post indicate that nearly 85 percent of federal workers say their holiday plans have been marred by concern over finances.
“It reflects a complete lack of understanding about how is harmed by this shutdown,” Burkiewicz said. “Federal workers overwhelmingly want it to end. The fact that we just filed this lawsuit in conjunction with the largest union of federal workers supports that.”