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Feds feel shirked for shutdown work, sue for double pay
Some federal workers who were required to remain on the job during the government shutdown said Monday that they have filed a lawsuit demanding double pay, arguing that the government’s failure to pay them on time is a violation of labor laws.
The five workers, all employed by the Bureau of Prisons and required to work during the shutdown, said their paychecks in early October didn’t include money for Oct. 1 through Oct. 5. The workers said that meant they didn’t earn the minimum wage for their work, and they also weren’t paid overtime — both of which are labor violations.
“The minimum wage applicable to essential employees is $7.25 per hour, or $290 for a 40-hour week,” the workers said in their lawsuit, filed in federal claims court late last month. “Many essential employees were paid less than $290 for work performed during the week.”
The federal employees have since been paid for the time they worked, but their lawsuit says many of them had to make tough spending choices and incurred debts and interest costs.
The workers said they are entitled to compensatory damages under the Fair Labor Standards Act that should double the amount they have been paid.
About 1.3 million civilian workers were deemed essential and were required to work during the shutdown. Federal law said they would get paid eventually for the time they worked, but none of the money could be disbursed until the shutdown ended.
Congress passed legislation to pay workers who were deemed nonessential for the 16 days of the shutdown.
The Justice Department didn’t return a message seeking comment on the lawsuit.
Heidi Burakiewicz, attorney for the workers, said her own labor standards cases were postponed during the shutdown because no government attorneys were available to oppose her.
She said the workers she is representing had to make difficult choices during the shutdown, including incurring interest because they couldn’t pay off their full credit card bills — even though they put in the time to earn the money.
Ms. Burakiewicz said a judge has put the case on hold to determine whether any legislation is moving in Congress to resolve the problem, but the lawyer said she hasn’t heard of any such legislation and expects the stay to be lifted soon.
The partial shutdown lasted from Oct. 1 through Oct. 16, spanning parts of two federal pay periods. Workers received both paychecks, but their first check didn’t include money for any days they may have worked during the week of Oct. 1.
The workers are asking a judge to send notices to all of the estimated 1.3 million federal workers who stayed on the job without pay, asking them whether they want to join the lawsuit.
Ms. Burakiewicz said she has received paperwork from hundreds of federal workers who are eager to join the case.
During the 1995-96 government shutdown, the American Federation of Government Employees sued to insist that all workers be paid — thus taking any back-pay issues out of the hands of Congress.
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