President Donald Trump visited the US-Mexico border in Texas, on Thursday, where he met and posed with Customs and Border Protection officers. The trip was part of his push for a barrier at the southern border.
Trump’s desire for a wall or barrier at the border led to a partial government shutdown — which has been ongoing for nearly a month. In December after initially signaling that he would sign a stopgap measure to fund the remaining government agencies until February 8, Trump changed course and said he would not sign a bill unless it had $5.7 billion for a border wall. The plan did not have support in the Republican-led Senate and on December 22, a partial government shutdown began.
Now, with a new Democratic-led House of Representatives, Trump and Congress are at an impasse. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly said that Congress will not appropriate money for the wall; there are still not enough votes in the Senate to pass wall funding; and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to not bring funding bills to the floor for a vote if he believes Trump won’t sign them — despite the fact that the House has passed bills that would reopen the government.
The shutdown is impacting roughly 800,000 federal employees — around 420,000 of which are deemed “essential” and must work without pay. The remaining federal workers have been furloughed. CBP officers are among those “essential” federal employees, who are working without pay.
Two unions representing federal employees the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union are suing the Trump administration over the shutdown. The AFGE filed its suit on December 31, 2018, on behalf of the over 400,000 federal employees working without pay. Two corrections officers at the federal Bureau of Prisons are named as plaintiffs.
On Wednesday, the NTEU, refiled a complaint in the Court of Federal Claims. This union represents around 150,000 federal employees at 33 agencies and departments — including the CBP. According to the suit, “tens of thousands of National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) members” are considered “essential” and are working without pay.
Two listed plaintiffs in the case are CBP officers, who are suing “on behalf of themselves and all similarly situated individuals.” The initial suit (filed on Jan. 7) named officer Albert Vieira, but it was refiled naming officers Eleazar Avalos and James Davis.
“First, [the suit] alleges that the government’s failure to timely pay overtime wages earned on December 22, 2018, to Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) nonexempt employees like Mr. Avalos and Mr. Davis is illegal,” the lawsuit reads.
“Second, the complaint further alleges an FLSA violation based upon the expected government failure to pay a minimum wage and overtime wages earned for the pay period beginning December 23, 2018 and ending on January 5, 2019. They seek payment of the owed wages, an equal amount of liquidated damages, and other appropriate remedies.”
“It is unconscionable that many employees are having to work – and in some cases overtime – with no pay whatsoever,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said in a statement.
The NTEU filed another suit on Wednesday in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, against OMB Director and soon-to-be White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and the Office of Management and Budget over nonessential employees being asked to work without pay.
“While a case can certainly be made that some federal employees, such as Customs and Border Protection Officers and others, are protecting human life and property, that line of reasoning gets quite shaky when applied to thousands of IRS employees being called back in order to process tax refunds — and to do so without being paid,” Reardon said in separate statement. “That is not how the law works and that is not how this country should work.”