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Posts Tagged ‘shutdown’

Low-wage federal workers still want their shutdown pay, please

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019

It will take Lila Johnson months to rebound from the financial hit she endured earlier this year, going for weeks without pay during the federal government shutdown.

A contracted custodian who has worked for the past 21 years at the Department of Agriculture, Johnson still has not been reimbursed for her lost income, and her rage at President Donald Trump — who forced the shutdown in a bit to procure funding for his border wall — continues to grow. “It was just ridiculous for him to act the way he did as a leader,” Johnson told ThinkProgress.

“He punished the people, held us hostage because of something that he promised his voters. He promised his voters that he was going to build the wall. He’s the one who promised Mexico was going to pay for the wall,” she said.

“And when he couldn’t get his way, he was like, ‘I’m going to shut everything down.’ And that is not leadership of running the United States.”

A great-grandmother in her seventies, Johnson cleans bathrooms four hours per night, five days a week. Two months ago, for 35 days — the longest U.S. government shutdown in history — she went without pay.

The hit on her income has left Johnson in a financially precarious position, scraping, scrimping, struggling more than ever to get by. She is holding out now for her tax refund. “Maybe that will pull me up more than I am now,” she said.

While 800,000 federal workers were either furloughed or forced to work without pay, Trump held a nation captive over his border wall, the construction plans for which read like scribbles from his dream journal: it is to be a “powerful wall,” perhaps a “steel barrier,” or maybe, actually, a “smart wall” utilizing drones and sensors.

Needless to say, the wall has not arrived, in any form. Nor, for federal contractors like Johnson, has back pay. Although federal employees were eligible for and ultimately received back pay, the federal contractors who were also affected by the shutdown have not. (Since they are privately hired, estimates about just how many federal contractors there are range pretty widely, with some estimates putting the number nationwide at more than a million.)

The government pays third-party companies for contractor work, which means contractors don’t get paid unless their services are actually used.

Last month, Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) introduced a bill to ensure back pay for federal contract workers: the Fair Compensation for Low-Wage Contractor Employees Act, which “aims to help low-wage federal contractor employees—including janitorial, food, and security services workers—who were furloughed or forced to accept reduced work hours as a result of the recent government shutdown.”

Since it was engineered for low-wage workers, the bill had its limits: payments would be capped at $965 per worker per week. But Trump refused to sign a spending package that included back pay for contractors.

“It’s not fair for the American people to live the way they’re living because [Trump] is selfish,” Johnson said. “He only thinks about what he wants. That’s the mind of a child, to me. That’s not leadership.”

“There is an important piece of unfinished business from the past government shutdown that we still need to resolve: providing back pay for the employees of federal contractors who lost over one month’s pay,” Smith said in a statement to ThinkProgress.

“These thousands of Americans work shoulder to shoulder with federal employees for all of us — many as security guards, cafeteria workers, and people who clean office buildings—and they must be made whole. Several of my Republican colleagues and the entire Democratic caucus supports this effort, so we should be able to find a solution.”

During the shutdown, stories about these contractors — who overwhelmingly are immigrants and people of color —  made headlines. There was a Smithsonian museum security guard whose car was repossessed, another who rationed her children’s asthma medicine, still others applying for food stamps and fearing eviction. The shutdown’s financial toll on contractors lingers like a hangover the country can’t shake.

In a statement, Jaime Contreras, a vice president at 32BJ SEIU, the guild which represents over 600 federally-contracted workers, said the union “will not rest until federal agencies pay the men and women who clean and secure federal buildings the back pay they deserve and need for bills they still can’t afford to pay.”

These workers “live paycheck to paycheck and faced eviction, power shut off and hunger among many hardships during the Trump shutdown,” Contreras said.

Among them is Julia Quintanilla, who has been working as a custodian at the Department of Agriculture for 28 years. Along with other contracted workers, she cleans about 60 offices a day. Quintanilla remembers the shutdown during President Barack Obama’s tenure as just “a little bit” of a problem.

The 35-day shutdown under Trump “was a disaster,” she told ThinkProgress through a translator. Even with assistance from her church, her union, and her family, she was “scraping by” without her paycheck. By the time the shutdown was over, it had completely wiped out her savings.

“It was thousands and thousands of people who were affected — and actually devastated, that’s the right word,” she said. “We were devastated by this.”

For the month or so she was out of work, Quintanilla alternated attending protests with her union, which helped collect donations and distribute gas coupons, and going to churches to get free food, “just trying to get by,” she said.

She lives intermittently with her son and permanently with her mother and her three-year-old grandson, who has severe muscular and developmental disabilities; he cannot walk or speak.

Her mother “needs medicine and that’s very expensive,” Quintanilla said. “So we’re still feeling the pain of the money that we lost.” She also has outstanding debt with family members who lent her money to tide her over during the shutdown.

The entire experience has left her rattled and anxious. “This makes you think about it all the time,” she said. “So when you hear about possible future shutdowns, it weighs heavy on your mind, in a way that it might not have before.”

Like Quintanilla, Johnson is the primary caretaker for her family. She’s raising two great-grandsons, ages 6 and 14, and has since they were babies. Even with money she gets from the government for being their legal guardians, a foster care stipend of $850 per child per month, Johnson relies on her income from her contract work. After taxes, she typically takes home $756 every two weeks. Once the shutdown was over, “I had to work for a whole month before I even got a decent check.”

Johnson, too, “was basically blessed as far as people reaching out to me, helping. My family helped as much as they can, but they have their own life to live, so I basically just did the best I could.” She also had some assistance from church and friends “that carried me through.”

For many of her bills — car note, credit card — she asked that companies be lenient giving her time to pay what she could, and “they were pretty reasonable.” Support came from just about everywhere, it seems, except for the federal government, which employed these contractors — and initiated and prolonged the shutdown — in the first place.

“I still have those moments when I thought about, not only myself, but I thought about everyone else,” Johnson said. “Because my heart went out to other people, too. If I was going through what I was going through, I can imagine the pain that other people have that didn’t have nothing… That was very stressful, just to see those people trying to take care of their families,” she said.

“Some had to sell their cars. Some couldn’t pay their bills and didn’t know where their next meal was coming from. Some didn’t even have money to pay for their childcare,” she said.

“It was just more stressful to see other people going through what I was going through.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on March 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jessica M. Goldstein is a reporter for ThinkProgress covering culture and politics.

Now That Government Is Funded, Here Is What Workers Want to See

Thursday, February 21st, 2019

Last year, in communities all across the country, millions of Americans mobilized and called for an economy that works for all of us. From state houses and governors mansions to Capitol Hill, we elected advocates who committed themselves to advancing that cause. That election was defined by a movement of hard working people who stood together to reject the meager crumbs we are being handed and reclaim what is rightfully ours.

In electing more than 900 union members to office, we secured a great opportunity to right the structural wrongs of our economy. Our mission was not simply to rack up victories on election night last November. We changed the rulemakers. Now it is time for them to change the rules. As legislators move past the manufactured crisis that defined the first weeks of the 116th Congress, working people are ready to fight for that change.

Above all, that means affirming our ability to have a real voice on the job. A recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that half of all nonunion workers, or more than 60 million Americans, would choose to join a union if they were given the chance, yet aspiring union members continue to face countless obstacles. The power of working people must be unleashed. Whether we work for private companies or public employers, in an office or a mine or a factory, all of us have the right to freely negotiate higher wages and better working conditions.

Congress should modernize the badly outdated National Labor Relations Act to truly protect our freedom to organize and mobilize together. Top lawmakers have put forth promising proposals that would ensure workers can organize a union without facing scorched earth tactics and hostile campaigns from corporations. If workers sign up for a union, they deserve to know their decision is protected by law. It is not the job of executives, governors or right wing operatives to make those decisions for them.

However, our fight will not end with one piece of legislation. An agenda for working families means building a fairer economy and a more just society for everyone in our country, whether you are in a union or not. That means achieving full employment where every American is able to access a good job, passing a $15 federal minimum wage, and refusing to approve any trade agreement that lacks enforceable labor protections.

It means providing a secure and prosperous future for all our families by expanding Social Security, strengthening our pensions, and making a serious federal investment in our infrastructure. It means defending the health and lives of working people by shoring up the Affordable Care Act, removing onerous taxes on health insurance plans negotiated by workers, expanding Medicare coverage to more people, and lowering prescription drug costs. It means passing laws that ensure paid sick and family leave.

All of these guarantees are long overdue for working people, but there is arguably no task so vital as defending our right to safety and dignity on the job. Congress should also extend comprehensive federal protections, including the Equality Act, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status, to LGBTQ and immigrant workers, whose livelihoods and families too often rest on the whims of their employers.

As one of a handful of men in my family to survive the scourge of black lung in the coal mines of Pennsylvania, I cannot overstate the dire need for broadly strengthened safety regulations, including the expansion of Occupational Safety and Health Administration coverage to all workers, toughened federal enforcement, and ironclad whistleblower protections.

Corporations and right wing interests continue to try their best to deny working people our fair share of the enormous wealth that we produce every day. In November, we stood up to change that twisted status quo. We made our voices heard at the ballot box, and we intend to hold the people we elected accountable to an economic agenda that will raise wages, move our country forward, and lead to better lives for all of us.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on February 21, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Richard L. Trumka is president of the 12.5-million-member AFL-CIO.

With Shutdown Over, OPM provides Guidance on Back Pay for Federal Employees

Thursday, February 14th, 2019

In late January, federal employees across the country returned to work for the first time in over a month.  In an effort to provide retroactive pay as quickly as possible, The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has issued guidance to federal agencies impacted by the shutdown to explain how their employees should receive back pay and other benefits.

Back Pay

Employees who were furloughed will receive back pay at their standard rate of pay for the time that they would have been in a regular pay status if the shutdown had never occurred. This includes overtime pay, night pay or other premium pay (e.g. LEAP, holiday pay, etc.) that the employee would have received.

However, if an employee was scheduled to be in a non-pay status during the shutdown, including Leave Without Pay (LWOP) or serving a suspension, then the employee is not eligible for backpay during that period, including holidays.

For excepted employees who were required to work without pay during the shutdown, they will receive their regular pay for the hours they actually worked, including any overtime or other premium pay. Conversely, if the employee did not show up for work and did not request leave, they will be marked absent without leave (AWOL) and will not receive back pay.

For any employees who received unemployment payments during the shutdown, the state involved will receive notice of the back-pay amount and then make a determination as to what repayment is required.

Leave

Furloughed employees cannot be charged paid leave or other paid time off during the shutdown, even if they had prescheduled paid leave. On the other hand, excepted employees may be charged leave – and compensated for it through back pay – for periods during the furlough where they used paid leave in lieu of reporting to work.

Many employees were planning to take “use or lose” annual leave but were furloughed before they could do so. According to OPM, agencies must restore any annual leave that was scheduled in writing prior to November 24, 2018. Note that restoration of leave will not apply to scheduled leave for December 24, which was declared a federal holiday in 2018, unless the employee can show they would have rescheduled the leave for another day. Restoration also does not apply to leave that had previously been restored. In those instances, the leave is lost for good.

Similarly, employees who were unable to use compensatory time off in lieu of overtime pay due to the shutdown will be paid for such time. Compensatory time off for travel that was forfeited can be restored and extended for another 26 pay periods.

In regard to accruing leave during the shutdown, all employees receiving back pay are considered in a pay status for that period and will also accrue leave at normal rates.

FMLA

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks but employees are permitted to substitute paid leave during this time to continue receiving pay.  For employees that were on FMLA during the shutdown, back pay will be dependent on whether the employee was scheduled to substitute paid leave. If the employee had planned to use paid leave during their FMLA leave period, these employees will not only receive back pay but they will also not be charged any leave. However, employees scheduled to be in a non-pay status (i.e. FMLA LWOP), will not receive back pay. For all employees using FMLA leave, the shutdown period will still count toward their 12 weeks of protected leave.

Benefits & Retirement

Employees are also entitled to retroactive benefits. Deductions will be taken out of the back-pay checks to cover employee contributions to health and retirement plans. Loan payments to Thrift Savings Plans (TSP) will also be made.

For those employees who requested to retire during the shutdown, the retirement will be made effective retroactively to the date requested and no back pay will be received after that date.

It isn’t yet clear when agencies will begin making these retroactive payments. If you believe the agency has incorrectly calculated your back pay or you have been improperly denied any benefits as a result of the shutdown, you should contact an experienced federal employment attorney to determine what options you have to protect your rights.

About the Author: Alan Lescht has been successfully litigating employment discrimination, civil rights, and commercial litigation cases for more than 30 years and has won dozens of notable trials. He is the founding partner of Alan Lescht and Associates, PC, where he oversees the firm’s employment litigation and counseling practices.

Meet the Militant Flight Attendant Leader Who Threatened a Strike—And Helped Stop Trump’s Shutdown

Monday, February 11th, 2019

The government shutdown introduced America to an audacious new voice in the labor movement: Sara Nelson. While receiving the MLK Drum Major for Justice Lifetime Achievement Award from the AFL-CIO on January 20, Nelson, the International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, called for a general strike to support the 800,000 federal employees who were locked out or forced to work without pay. “Dr. King said, ‘their destiny is tied up with our destiny,’” Nelson told a cheering crowd of labor leaders. “We cannot walk alone.”

Absences among air traffic controllers on the 35th and final day of the shutdown, causing ground stops at LaGuardia Airport in New York and elsewhere, contributed to the eventual resolution of the standoff. Before the shutdown ended, flight attendants were mobilizing to walk out as well—as Nelson said, “if air traffic controllers can’t do their jobs, we can’t do ours.” Simply floating the idea of labor unrest raised the stakes. Nelson, who took over leadership of the AFA in 2014, broke an unwritten rule by expressing the logical endpoint of the power workers hold in their hands.

“I was very aware when writing that speech that it was going to be a moment and it was going to make a lot of things possible,” she told In These Times during an interview last week in Los Angeles. “There has been this hopelessness, this feeling that the problems are out of our reach. So setting a bold course and being bold about the action that we need to take was something that I knew people would respond to.”

That urgency has yet to dissipate. The shutdown was merely put on pause—government funding runs out again February 15. It’s entirely possible that workers could again get furloughed and cut off from pay. And Nelson wants everyone to understand how her members are willing to sacrifice in response.

“I know how dangerous a day 36 of the lockout would be,” she said, referring to a resumption of the shutdown. “We’re going to continue running as fast as we can right up to February 15, so that we can take action immediately on February 16 if necessary.” If flight attendants do take action, other unions and even the airlines themselves may get behind them. That’s because the shutdown inserted fundamental risk into the air travel system.

Nelson, a 23-year rank and file flight attendant with United Airlines who still occasionally works trips, thinks that it will take years for the aviation industry to recover from the shutdown and the issues that preceded it. Nearly 20 percent of all air traffic controllers are currently eligible to retire, a figure that rises to 40 percent in the New York City area, Nelson said. Staffing was at a 30-year low before the shutdown. The political uncertainty could easily convince air traffic controllers into cutting their careers short. And the training required for such a difficult job means that replacing these workers will take time.

“If you have a 99.5 percent efficiency rate in a job, people applaud you, you get awards, right?” Nelson explained. “If an air traffic controller has a 99.5 percent efficiency rate, 50 planes go down a day.”

Fewer people managing plane traffic means reduced capacity in the air. That has an economic impact, compounded by the shutdown’s temporary halt on installing improved safety measures like the NextGen modernization—an FAA-led effort to modernize the United States’ transportation system. Even after the shutdown, NextGen has not rolled back to life, Nelson said. “No contractor is going to come to work when they think they’re going to have to shut down in two weeks possibly.”

Amid this economic uncertainty and threat to safety, Nelson has signaled a critical need for worker action. The labor strike is having a renaissance in America. Teachers across the country—even in states like West Virginia where striking is illegal—have withheld their labor to bargain for better pay, conditions and outcomes for their students. Hotel workers at Marriott spent two months on the picket lines this winter to win concessions from management.

As Nelson understands, the willingness of workers to strike has powerful effects. The Association of Flight Attendants resolved a dispute in 1993 with Alaska Airlines—which led to as much as 60 percent pay raises for workers in some cases—by only striking seven flights. The union called it CHAOS: “create havoc around our system.” With air travel so interconnected and interdependent, the ever-present threat of CHAOS has helped lead to labor peace.

The right to strike is a privilege that federal employees are denied; they are legally prohibitedfrom walkouts, and they can be terminated, hit with the loss of a federal pension, and even personally prosecuted for defying the law. “Those federal workers were actually very courageous,” Nelson said. “Because in my view what the White House wanted here was for the workers to strike. They wanted to replace them so they could privatize the entire system.” This is not so far-fetched—President Trump has publicly supported air traffic control privatization.

Nelson believes that the heroic efforts of federal workers to show up to work without pay demands that the labor movement support them with solidarity strikes, part of her desire to shake up the status quo. “If we try to play by the rules, we’re only going to continue to decline,” she said.

Part of Nelson’s power derives from the union she leads. Flight attendants are a uniquely consumer-facing profession that comes into contact with millions of Americans every day. And they share with passengers the indignities of air travel, a by-product of corporate greed and industry consolidation that has left four carriers controlling 80 percent of all domestic routes. With few alternatives for passengers, shrinking seats and overhead bins have heightened tensions in the cabin, and flight attendants are bearing the brunt. According to Nelson, “Our union, our bread and butter issues are absolutely tied up in this overall fight that I think is really about, are we going to be about people or are we going to be about politics and profits?”

In the near term, that fight is translating into mass mobilization against the threat of another shutdown. Nelson’s union is leafleting at airports and communicating to the public between now and February 15 to identify the stakes, and making clear that members are committed to walking out if necessary. They’re also advocating for a permanent end to government shutdowns, and back wages for low-income federal contract workers who were furloughed.

One moment during the previous shutdown has stuck with Nelson, a reminder of the unifying force of cross-sector solidarity. “I was doing interviews on the shutdown in a cab ride” in Washington, D.C., Nelson recalled. “And when I got to the office and went to get out and pay my fare, the cab driver turned around and his chin was shaking and his eyes were watery. And he said, ‘Thank you, I know you’re fighting for me too.’ It was like, oh yeah, there’s been nobody on the streets, and he’s had no fares. And that really shook me, because we don’t really understand how much the effect ripples.”

This notion that we all have a stake in one another’s struggles has driven Nelson’s thinking throughout this government-created crisis, and it’s elevated her to a prominence that could portend a larger role in the future. Nelson begged off such thoughts, insisting that she was focused on saving the lives of her members and airline passengers. But she did leave some room to consider the broader lessons of collective action, in a moment when so many forces are aligned against the working class: “I’m very aware that if we do it well, it’s an opportunity for workers to taste their power.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on February 8, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: David Dayen is an investigative fellow with In These Times‘ Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting. His book Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud won the 2015 Studs and Ida Terkel Prize. He lives in Los Angeles, where prior to writing about politics he had a 19-year career as a television producer and editor.

Shutdown pain drags on for federal contractors, who won't get back pay unless Democratic bill passes

Thursday, January 31st, 2019

One of the key post-shutdown tests for Senate Republicans will be this: Do federal contract workers get back pay? Those workers, many of them among the lowest-paid in the government, didn’t get back pay after the 2013 shutdown, and it will only come this time through a separate bill, which Democrats have introduced, including up to $965 a week in back pay plus any sick days that people used to get through the shutdown.

The shutdown caused pain for hundreds of thousands of workers, perhaps most of all for these workers largely earning between $450 and $650 a week, more than a thousand of them in the expensive Washington, D.C., area, and without any guarantee, or even strong hope, of getting back pay when government reopened. Unemployment benefits weren’t a good answer, as one Smithsonian security guard discovered: The checks took weeks to start arriving and were hundreds of dollars short of his pay.

National Portrait Gallery cleaning supervisor Audrey Murray-Wright told the Washington Post that she couldn’t afford her blood pressure medication—which presumably would have been particularly important as she looked at a stack of bills she was behind on—but the worst part was that “I never, ever want to tell my son, ‘Don’t drink all that milk so you can save your brother some.’”

These people do important work for the government, for low pay. They deserve back pay every bit as much as if their checks came directly from the government rather than through a private company with a government contract. So, will Senate Republicans vote for, and Donald Trump sign, a bill to make them whole?

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on January 29, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. 

The longest shutdown in U.S. history will have lingering consequences for federal workers

Monday, January 28th, 2019

Though President Donald Trump and Congress finally brokered a deal to end the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history, members of the federal workforce are still left dealing with the financial pain it caused.

The partial shutdown stretched on for 35 days, depriving government employees of two paychecks. Although President Donald Trump said on Friday that federal workers will receive back pay “as soon as possible,” about 800,000 workers — many of whom have had to take out loans and find part-time work — will have to wait late into next week to receive their pay. Contract workers aren’t eligible for back pay at all.

Randy Erwin, the president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said in a statement that the record-breaking shutdown “caused irreparable harm to working families across the country,” calling it a “shameful chapter in American history.”

“Federal workers and others have resorted to selling their possessions, and many have defaulted on loans and mortgages in order to afford heat, medicine, and food,” Erwin said.

The 35-day partial government shutdown exposed the reality that many Americans are living in financially precarious situations.

Seventy-eight percent of full-time workers say they live paycheck-to-paycheck, according to a 2017 CareerBuilder report. And 40 percent of adults say they would struggle to take on an unexpected $400 expense, reporting they would be forced to sell their belongings, borrow money, or forgo paying the bill at all, a 2017 Federal Reserve report found.

The people who make up the federal workforce often face specific financial constraints.

Federal worker salaries on average fall behind the salaries of their private sector counterparts by 31.86 percent, according to a 2018 Federal Salary Council report. In an executive order issued in December, Trump said pay rates for federal civilian employees would remain stagnant in 2019, claiming that approving a pay raise for federal workers would be “inappropriate” given the financial challenges facing the government.

The federal contractors who won’t receive back pay to compensate them for their missed hours of work are particularly vulnerable. Some estimates find that 40 percent of the entire government workforce is made up of contract workers, totaling 3.7 million people.

“I think [contractors] get lost by the wayside in the concentration on the 800,000 people who are direct employees of the federal government,” said Ken, a contractor for the Federal Aviation Administration who is based in New Jersey, during a Wednesday protest against the shutdown at the Hart Senate Building. 

Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) — along with Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) — introduced legislation earlier this month that would require federal agencies to work with contractors’ companies to secure back pay for those workers.

While the government was partially shuttered, unpaid workers still needed to figure out what to do about their bills. This month, unpaid federal workers owed about $438 million in mortgage and rent payments — which breaks down to $189 million in rent payments and $249 in mortgage payments — according to a report from the real-estate firm Zillow.

Federal workers told ThinkProgress that the shutdown forced them to take out loans, file for unemployment, take on part-time work, and even consider leaving town. Some of the choices they made over the past month may have lasting financial repercussions.

Patricia Floyd-Hicks, a furloughed worker for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) who attended Wednesday’s protest at the Hart Senate Building, told ThinkProgress that she had to dip into her savings as she prepares to retire.

Federal workers also worry that the shutdown could damage their credit scores, since workers only need to miss one credit card payment to have points taken off their credit score. Credit-scoring experts told CBSNews that it isn’t easy for a company like FICO to adjust its model in response to an event like the shutdown.

Although the government has reopened for at least the next three weeks, it’s unclear what will happen once lawmakers reach the February 15 deadline for the short-term spending bills that passed Friday. The uncertainty and financial instability is too much for some employees.

Several federal workers told ThinkProgress they are seriously considering whether they should leave the federal government altogether. According to research from the employment-related search engine Indeed, they fit into a bigger trend, as furloughed workers have been searching for jobs at an increased rate during the shutdown.

Indeed’s director of economic research, Martha Gimbel, compared job searches on the Indeed platform among employees in agencies across the government. She found that TSA workers’ job searches were up about 30 percent compared to the same time last year, while IRS workers’ job searches rose about 50 percent. Department of Health and Human Services workers’ searches were up 80 percent over this period last January.

The government watchdog group National Taxpayer Advocate estimates it will take about a year for the IRS’ operations to return to normal, according to the Washington Post — and one of the reasons for the delay, the group says, is that many of the agency’s workers have already decided to leave for the private sector.

Financial struggles can affect people’s mental health in serious ways, as research has shown. University of Southampton researchers published a 2013 report finding a significant relationship between debt and mental disorder, including depression. Findings from a 2016 study on U.S. households “suggest that short-term debt may have an adverse influence on psychological wellbeing.”

Many federal workers have now experienced this strain firsthand. When President Donald Trump threatened to keep the government partially shut down for months or even years, Jordan — who works for the U.S. Department for Housing and Urban Development, and who asked to withhold their full name and gender out of fear of retaliation for speaking to the press — said the “real shock” of hearing this remark “led me to some crazy thoughts.”

“There is a bit of fear that raged through my body,” Jordan said.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on January 26, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

Longest government shutdown in history causes record number of TSA workers to stay home

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019

As the longest government shutdown in U.S. history ticks on, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is slowly starting to crumble.

The absence rate for TSA employees this weekend increased to a record-breaking eight percent, compared to 7.5 percent last week and just three percent this time last year, according to the Washington Post. The absences particularly impacted large hubs in Chicago, New York, Atlanta and Miami. Baltimore Washington International Airport also suffered some sever staff shortages this weekend. On Sunday, the absences topped ten percent, as many TSA workers were unable to afford to continue working without pay.

In order to keep lines moving at airports, TSA has dipped into its National Deployment Force (NDF) pool, which is normally used to help out with major events such as the Superbowl.

TSA is also doing its utmost to ensure that the public does not know the true extent of how the shutdown is affecting the agency’s ability to perform its job. In an email sent Friday obtained by CNN, the agency’s deputy assistant administrator for public affairs Jim Gregory laid out a series of talking points on how to handle inquiries about the scale of the shutdown.

“Do not offer specific call out data at your airport,” the email reads. “You can say you have experienced higher numbers of call outs but in partnership with the airport and airlines you are able to manage people and resources to ensure effective security is always maintained.”

While TSA offers national data, it does not offer details for specific airports owing to “security concerns.” This means that there could be significant variation at airports that push some higher than the eight percent absence rate recorded nationwide.

The absences have, however, trickled down to travelers, who have been forced to wait in line for much longer than normal to get through security. TSA has consistently maintained that it is screening the vast majority of passengers in 30 minutes or less, but the ebbs and flows of airports during the shutdown has meant that some have been in scenarios where they’ve been severely understaffed.

Last week, for instance, multiple security lanes at Atlanta’s Hartfield-Jackson International Airport were closed; wait times to pass through security lasted more than an hour and multiple flights were canceled. TSA is also expecting an influx of visitors into Atlanta for the Superbowl on February 3rd.

The continued lack of funding for TSA has also meant some workers have decided to simply quit outright, according to Hydrick Thomas, head of the American Federation of Government Employees’ TSA Council.

“Some of them have already quit and many are considering quitting the federal workforce because of this shutdown,” he said in a statement. “The loss of officers, while we’re already shorthanded, will create a massive security risk for American travelers since we don’t have enough trainees in the pipeline or the ability to process new hires.”

It’s not just TSA employees that have been struggling as the government shutdown enters its 30th day.

FBI field offices in Newark, Dallas, New Jersey and Washington are also establishing, or plan to establish, food banks for agents, who are also considered essential employees and must work through the shutdown. Because of security considerations FBI agents are usually prohibited from taking a second job, but according to CNN there has been a sharp surge in the number of agents and workers looking for additional employment.

Meanwhile, employees at federal prisons are also logging double shifts, and even in some cases using medical or maintenance employees to work as guards to help supplement low staffing numbers. According to the New York Times this led some inmates at New York’s Metropolitan Correction Center to go on hunger strike last week, as staffing shortages had forced the jail to cancel family visits for a second week.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on January 21, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Luke Barnes is a reporter at ThinkProgress. He previously worked at MailOnline in the U.K., where he was sent to cover Belfast, Northern Ireland and Glasgow, Scotland. He graduated in 2015 from Columbia University with a degree in Political Science. He has also interned at Talking Points Memo, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, and Narratively.

Federal Employees Are Suing the Trump Administration for Forcing Them to Work for Free

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019

Workers are suing the Trump administration, arguing that it’s illegal to compel federal employees to work with no pay. Filed by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the lawsuit comes amid calls for federal workers to go on strike or stage a sick-out as the government shutdown enters its fifth week.

On December 31, the AFGE sued the Trump administration for denying pay to federal workers during the partial government shutdown, alleging that the action was a clear violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the 1938 law that created the right to a minimum wage and overtime pay. On January 9, the union filed an amended complaint in the lawsuit, charging that the government is in violation of minimum wage laws. 

Nearly half a million federal employees deemed “essential” have been ordered to continue working despite the fact that they do not know when they will ultimately be paid for their hours.

Heidi Burakiewicz, an attorney representing the plaintiffs as part of Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch, told In These Times that the amended complaint was initiated over the fact that 420,000 federal employees had gone a full two weeks without a paycheck by mid-January, which is a violation of minimum wage laws.

Burakiewicz says the plaintiffs are seeking back pay, plus liquidated damages to compensate for the financial decisions they’ve been forced to make during the shutdown. “People are running up late payment penalties and interest charges,” said Burakiewicz. “There’s so many people who live paycheck to paycheck, and we’ve heard about so many incredibly heartbreaking situations.”

Although there are just two plaintiffs so far, AFGE is setting up an electronic sign-up system for other workers to join the lawsuit, and Burakiewicz estimates that she’s already received about 7,000 emails from people inquiring about how to become part of it.

This isn’t the first time Burakiewicz has sued the federal government. After the 2013 government shutdown, Burakiewicz represented 25,000 essential federal employees who filed a lawsuit on similar grounds. The government tried to get the case dismissed by arguing that federal law prevented them from spending any money that had not been allocated by Congress.

A judge with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims disagreed with the government’s assessment and ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in 2014. In 2017, the court determined that the workers were actually entitled to double their back pay. Despite the victory, the workers are still waiting to receive their compensation.

Burakiewicz says that one of the reasons the litigation has been so slow is because the lawsuit was unprecedented and there were a number of legal issues that had to be ironed out. Since this terrain has now been covered, she thinks that this second lawsuit will proceed much quicker—and that it will be much easier to calculate damages for the workers.

As the shutdown continues, some are calling for strikes and work stoppages. On January 14, Barbara Ehrenreich and Gary Stevenson called on Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers to go on a strike in a New York Times op-ed. “The moral foundation for a strike is unquestionably firm,” reads the piece. “The federal government has broken its contract with its employees—locking some of them out of their workplaces and expecting others to work for the mere promise of eventual pay.”

Federal employees are legally prevented from going on strike, and in 1981 Ronald Reagan infamously fired almost 13,000 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) for participating in one. Many credit Reagan with dealing organized labor a blow that it has never entirely recovered from, as the private sector began imitating Reagan’s move and began replacing striking workers rather than negotiating with them.

However, there are signs that workers today are bringing the strike back. The year 2018 saw waves of teachers’ strikes and work stoppages that rocked a number of GOP-controlled states. All of these actions were led by the rank and file, and in many cases the teachers pushed the leadership of their unions towards more radical demands. Teachers’ strikes are illegal in West Virginia, yet that didn’t stop them from walking out nor did it impact their success.

In Slate, Henry Grabar spoke with historian Joseph McCartin about the many reasons that TSA workers shouldn’t fear the specter of PATCO if they end up striking. Reagan was popular during the time of the strike, while Trump’s approval rating continues to dip, and there probably isn’t a trained replacement workforce that could easily be implemented like there was in 1981. Additionally, there are tens of thousands more TSA employees than there were air-traffic controllers, and air travel is a much bigger part of the country’s economy, which would increase the potential leverage that a work stoppage could generate.

McCartin, who wrote the definitive book on the PATCO strike, published a piece in The American Prospect on January 14 calling on TSA workers to participate in a spontaneous sickout that would force the government to act. McCartin doesn’t believe that such an action would need to be nationwide to have an immediate impact. “This partial shutdown can continue only as long as hundreds of thousands of federal workers cooperate with it by working without pay, and often having to do more because many of their colleagues have been furloughed,” writes McMartin.

In addition to the AFGE lawsuit, the National Treasury Employees Union sued the govermnent in an attempt to excuse federal employees from working. On January 15, a Washington, D.C. judge ruled that government employees are still legally obligated to go to work even if they aren’t being paid.

About the Author: Michael Arria covers labor and social movements. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelarria

This article was originally published at In These Times on January 22, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

As shutdown becomes longest in U.S. history, federal employees sue over working for no pay

Monday, January 14th, 2019

The government shutdown dragged on for a 22nd day on Saturday, making it the longest in American history. On Friday, 800,000 federal employees went without their paychecks. And though President Trump insists “the buck stops with everybody,”  51 percent of Americans are placing blame for the shutdown him and him alone, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

On Friday, federal employee unions filed a lawsuit accusing the government of violating federal labor laws by forcing “essential” employees to continue to work through the shutdown, even though they aren’t being paid. These unions — the National Federation of Federal Employees, the National Association of Government Employees, the National Weather Service Employees Organization — have sued in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. They allege that by not paying workers minimum wage and overtime, the federal government is violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.

In a statement, NFFE National President Randy Erwin said:

“In this country, when a worker performs a day’s work, he or she is entitled to a day’s worth of compensation. That is how working people provide for their families. Because of the chaos this wasteful government shutdown is causing, the government is trying to pay people in I.O.U.s. With this lawsuit we’re saying, ‘No, you can’t pay workers with I.O.U.s. That will not work for us.’”

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association also sued the federal government Friday, as its workers, too, work sans pay throughout the shutdown. Their lawsuit argues that the administration is in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act as well as the Fifth Amendment, asserting that it “unlawfully deprived NATCA members of their earned wages without due process,” as the group wrote in a press release. According to The Hill, NATCA is asking for a hearing on its motion for a temporary restraining order against the government.

Politico reports that the Office of Management and Budget is working on “a special mid-cycle pay disbursement for impacted agencies” so that employees can be paid swiftly — that is, once the shutdown ends.

One thing that would not end the shutdown, according to the White House, is the declaration of a national emergency, a move Trump is said to be giving serious consideration.

Sources told Politico that White House officials have urged congressional Republicans to manage their expectations about the shutdown coming to a speedy conclusion in the event that Trump declares a national emergency at the border.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on January 12, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jessica M. Goldstein is the Culture Editor for ThinkProgress.

Government shutdown will force Miami airport to close one terminal early in coming days

Friday, January 11th, 2019

Transportation Security Administration officials have tried to downplay the impact of airport security screening officers calling out sick during the government shutdown, but this one will be hard to wave off: Miami International Airport will be closing a terminal early for three days.

According to an airport official, “Due to an increased number of TSA screeners not reporting to work, we have decided to take this precautionary step and relocate about 12 flights to adjoining concourses in the afternoons.” Twice as many TSA screeners are calling out sick as usual at Miami, forcing this drastic move.

It’s another reminder of what it means when 800,000 people don’t get paid. If they go to work, “essential” employees like TSA screeners face costs for commuting and child care. If they stay home, they don’t have to pay their childcare providers … who then lose income as a more-or-less direct result of the shutdown. Just as the people who work in the shops and restaurants of the Miami terminal will presumably lose income when it closes early on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

In the case of TSA screeners, the economic pressure pushing them to call out sick will also affect travelers who may face longer lines at Miami in the coming days, just as passengers at New York’s LaGuardia did last weekend. And airport screening isn’t the only part of flying that’s taken a hit during the shutdown. Airline pilots have warned about the lack of FAA safety inspectors; flight attendants and air traffic controllers have warned about stresses on the air traffic control system; and industry groups summed it all up in a letter saying that “This partial shutdown has already inflicted real damage to our nation’s aviation system and the impacts will only worsen over time.”

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on January 11, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.

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