Washington D.C. – The newly signed law guaranteeing furloughed federal workers receive back pay is a welcome development but only when the government reopens will federal workers begin to recover financially, National Treasury Employees Union President Tony Reardon said.
“Making sure all federal employees receive back pay was a top priority for NTEU and we are grateful Congress and the administration approved the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act,” Reardon said. “But our work is not done. The promise of back pay does not cover the power bill right now or put gas in the gas tank today. Only when the government re-opens and employees are fully compensated can they begin to heal from the damage this shutdown has caused them and their families.”
The back pay legislation passed Congress with strong bipartisan support and was signed by the president today. It also allows employees who are required to work during the shutdown to use their leave.
“NTEU and federal employees across the country are grateful to Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) and the dozens of other members of Congress who cosponsored this important legislation,” Reardon said. “Their work has given federal employees a glimmer of hope that despite the pain and uncertainty of the shutdown, they will not lose income because of a political standoff that they did not cause.”
Also, Reardon commended Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, for asking Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to make sure furloughed federal workers, and those working without pay, can receive unemployment insurance benefits. Neal asked Acosta in a letter Tuesday to issue guidance, similar to the 2013 shutdown, so that state workforce agencies can start helping federal employees as soon as possible.
For example, states should be allowed to waive the requirement that impacted federal employees actively search for another job while collecting unemployment benefits.
NTEU is also closely monitoring the administration’s expanding list of employees it is calling back into work during the shutdown, without pay. In addition to the 36,000 IRS workers expected to return to the job, the Food and Drug Administration is recalling hundreds of FDA employees to resume inspections of high-risk food manufacturing and processing plants. FDA is also recalling others who work on investigations of high-risk drug, medical device and biological manufacturing facilities.
NTEU has filed two separate lawsuits about the shutdown. The first alleges that requiring federal employees to work without pay during a shutdown violates the Fair Labor Standards Act. The second is a broader constitutional claim that challenges the ability of the executive branch to spend money that has not been appropriated by Congress, which is what happens when certain employees are ordered to work only to be paid after the shutdown ends. NTEU is also challenging the administration’s ability to require employees to work during the shutdown even if their jobs are not related to protecting human life and property.
NTEU-represented agencies affected by the lapse in appropriations include: IRS, Customs and Border Protection, Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Communications Commission, Food and Drug Administration, Federal Election Commission, National Park Service, Patent and Trademark Office, Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
NTEU represents 150,000 employees at 33 federal agencies and departments.