Federal judge considers ordering Trump to pay employees who say they’re now SLAVES working for free during shutdown – and could let them all stay home or look for other jobs
- Judge has consolidated three federal lawsuits against the Trump administration over work furloughs during the government shutdown
- Some federal employees sued under the 13th Amendment, claiming they’re being treated like slaves because they’re working without pay
- Others claim their government salaries are ‘property’ that can’t be taken away without due process under the Fifth Amendment
- Employees and their unions want restraining orders that would force the government to pay them, let them stay home or allow them to seek other work
- Judge Richard Leon heard oral arguments on Tuesday
A federal judge will decide on Tuesday whether the Trump administration can keep 780,000 unpaid federal workers in employment limbo during the partial shutdown, forcing some to work without salaries and requiring others to stay home without taking other jobs.
Some workers claim Trump is violating their Fifth Amendment rights by taking their property – their salaries – without due process. Others say he’s unconstitutionally treating them like slaves, forcing them to work for free without sufficient reason.
Judge Richard Leon is expected to rule on a demand for a temporary restraining order filed by two government employees’ unions and their members.
The National Treasury Employees Union and National Air Traffic Controllers Association say forcing government employees to work without pay violates the U.S. Constitution and the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The air traffic controllers’ lawsuit contends that government employees’ salaries are their ‘property,’ and depriving them of that compensation without a sufficient reason runs counter to the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee that no one can be ‘deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.’
Their members, the union said, shouldn’t be ‘distracted by financial issues … caused by the government’s unlawful taking of their property without due process.’
A group of five individual plaintiffs also sued under the 13th Amendment, declaring that being forced to work without a predictable payroll is a violation of the 13th Amendment’s prohibition of slavery.
They claim the government has threatened to punish ‘essential’ employees if they don’t show up to work despite not being paid, and that those sent home will be fired if they find other paid employment while they wait for the nation’s longest-ever shutdown to end.
Separately, the Treasury workers’ union says Trump is violating the Anti-Deficiency Act, a 149-year-old law that prevents federal agencies from spending money Congress hasn’t allotted to them.
The law, passed during the Ulysses Grant administration, allows for the government to keep running, without funding, in the case of ’emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.’
Congress added new language to it in 1990, saying that definition did not include ‘ongoing, regular functions of government’ unless life or property is threatened.
The union says the White House is illegally lumping ordinary government tasks, like processing tax returns, in with vital functions like military defense in order to avoid a public backlash.
Judge Leon, a George W. Bush appointee, consolidated all the cases and heard oral arguments Tuesday in Washington.
The National Treasury Employees Union represents more than 150,000 federal workers in 33 separate agencies. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association has 15,000 members and is affiliated with the AFL-CIO.
Treasury union president Tony Reardon said last week in a press release that ‘[i]f employees are working, they must be paid – and if there is not money to pay them, then they should not be working.’
Congress has already passed, and Trump has signed, legislation requiring back-pay disbursements for affected federal employees as soon as the shutdown is over.