Federal workers union asks Congress to stop Trump’s government shutdown
President Donald Trump reviews border wall prototypes, March 13, in San Diego. | AP

WASHINGTON—The top union for the estimated 600,000 federal workers who would be sent home by President Donald Trump’s government shutdown is asking Congress to halt the closure.

But in his Dec. 18 letter to congressional leaders, Treasury Employees (NTEU) President Tony Reardon does not offer any solution to the impasse between Trump and Congress over Trump’s $5 billion demand for his Mexican border wall.

NTEU represents workers in a multitude of agencies and almost all of those workers’ employers—notably the Treasury Department, the IRS, and the Justice Department—would run out of money on midnight Dec. 21 unless Congress provides funds to run the agencies and Trump agrees.

Trump adamantly demands Congress fund his wall, at $5 billion, or he’ll shut the agencies down, and proudly take responsibility for doing so.

Of the 600,000 affected workers, various estimates say up to 200,000—such as Border Patrol officers—would be declared “essential” and would have to report for work but get no pay after their Dec. 21 checks. The rest would be sent home. They wouldn’t get paid, either.

That includes 88 percent of IRS workers, who are trying to adjust tax forms and rules to account for the Trump-GOP tax cut for the rich and for businesses and prepare for the inevitable flood of questions.

Congress has already approved, and Trump has signed, money bills funding the rest of the government, including the Departments of Defense, Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services, along with related agencies, such as the National Labor Relations Board. But those 1.4 million workers are potential victims of Trump’s shutdown, too.

Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. | NTEU

That’s because the 1.9 percent annual pay raise, to take effect Jan. 1, for all federal civilian workers, is part of the Treasury Department-General Government money bill—and that funding runs out on Dec. 21. No additional money bill equals no pay raise, under a prior Trump edict, Reardon points out.

“If the president had not proposed a pay freeze, the Federal Employee Pay Comparability Act would have called for a 2.1 percent increase for federal employees in 2019. The Senate already approved a 1.9 percent increase, which NTEU believes should be included in whatever funding agreement is reached for the remainder of the fiscal year. If not, it would be the ninth straight year of either freezes or below-market raises,” NTEU said.

“Like all American workers and middle-class taxpayers, federal employees face ever-increasing costs of living with rising utility, food, and health care bills, along with school loan and rent or mortgage obligations,” Reardon wrote to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

“Federal employees have seen their wages fall further behind the private sector, which has adversely impacted them and their families, as well as agencies who compete for skilled talent. As we approach the 21st and the holidays, I urge you to pass legislation keeping the government open and providing a pay raise for the dedicated employees who work on behalf of our nation,” Reardon said.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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