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Workers Suffer the Impact of the Government Shutdown

On October 1st, hundreds of thousands of employees were furloughed when the government shutdown after it failed to reach an agreement to pass the federal budget bill. As a result of the shutdown, many services and operations have been discontinued, including the hiring and recruiting of employees.

Federal employees deemed to be non-essential for basic government functions will not be able to attend work and will not be paid. It is estimated that approximately 800,000 of these workers were sent home after the shutdown. Among the workers affected are employees for government agencies such as the Department of Labor, Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Treasury. Under the rules of a shutdown, these employees are not able to work from their offices and are barred to work from their homes. Another group of workers who are deemed essential to health, safety and security will be required to serve without receiving payment. This group includes air-traffic controllers, Border Patrol agents and prison guards.

The government has passed different bills to attempt to alleviate the impact of the shutdown on some of the workers directly affected. On Monday, September 30th, Congress approved the Pay Our Military Act and President Obama signed it into law. This Act was enacted to ensure that members of the Armed Forces who perform active duties receive pay and allowances. This legislation also covers civilian personnel whom the government determines to be essential in providing support to the military. Additionally, Congress passed the Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act on October 5th. This bill would authorize the federal government to provide backpay to federal employees who have been furloughed during the shutdown. It is expected to pass through the Senate and be signed by the president soon.

Another consequence of the shutdown is that employers will not be able to use the Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify system to verify the eligibility of prospective employees to work legally in the United States. This may delay hiring of new employees until businesses are able to regain access to the system.

Although the shutdown only directly affects government employees, workers in the private sector have begun to suffer indirect consequences. Many contractors who provide services for federal agencies have had to send workers on unpaid leave due to the discontinuance of government projects or the closing of government facilities. Lockheed Martin, for example, recently announced that it would place 3,000 employees on unpaid leave. Other government contractors such as United Technologies, Pratt & Whitney and UTC Aerospace Systems have stated that they may have to suspend many of their employees, with a total that may exceed 5,000.

Despite these suspensions, health benefits and unemployment checks should continue to be available. Federal workers may continue using their health benefits during their shutdown even if their premium payments are usually deducted from their paychecks. These workers would be able to make premium payments once their pay is resumed. Similarly, unemployment compensation checks will continue to be sent out although they may be delayed due to the smaller workforce, and may be affected after a long shutdown.

Many workers have been participating in protests across the country to push the government to come to an agreement. On Friday, hundreds of workers gathered on Capitol hill, organized by federal worker labor unions and democratic lawmakers to demand a resolution to the shutdown. Also, on Saturday, workers in Houston protested that lawmakers are placing politics over the rights of workers and families. These protests included employees from the Department of Labor, NASA and TSA.

With October 17th as the next deadline to raise the debt ceiling or facing default, workers continue to stress their need to receive pay for their work.

If you believe your rights as an employee may have been breached, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.

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