Labor & Employment

Federal employees forced to work without pay during government shutdown lose bid for TRO

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A federal judge in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday refused to order the federal government to pay federal workers on the job during the partial government shutdown, which has recently become the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon refused to issue temporary restraining orders sought in three cases, BuzzFeed News reports. The Washington Post, the National Law Journal and also have coverage.

Ruling from the bench, Leon acknowledged hardship for employees but said “the judiciary is not and cannot be another source of leverage” to resolve political “squabbles.” Issuing a TRO, he said, would be “profoundly irresponsible.” At best, he said, a TRO would cause “chaos and confusion.” At worst, it would be “catastrophic.”

A lawyer for one of the union plaintiffs had told Leon that promising to pay workers later amounts to spending money that isn’t appropriated, which constitutes a violation of the appropriations clause. The lawsuits also allege a violation of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery and a violation of Fifth Amendment protections from arbitrary government interference in obtaining meaningful employment.

The cases were filed by:

• The National Treasury Employees Union, which sought an order barring work without pay.

• The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, which sought an order requiring the government to pay workers with money appropriated to pay court judgments.

• Federal employees who work for the Department of Transportation, Department of Justice and Department of Agriculture, which sought an order that allowed employees to decide whether to work without pay.

BuzzFeed News noted that the DOJ lawyers arguing for the government also were working without pay.

Leon has scheduled a Jan. 31 hearing to hear arguments for a preliminary injunction.

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