The government shutdown may feel like ancient history, but some federal workers say they’re still dealing with the financial consequences. Even though they received back-pay, they are now suing the government.
So far, there are just five federal workers who have joined this collective action lawsuit – which is different than a class action lawsuit, because plaintiffs must opt-in and file the appropriate paperwork. They hope and believe more federal workers will sign on.
The five workers employed by the Bureau of Prisons in cities across the country were deemed "essential” and worked throughout the 16 day shutdown, but they were not paid in-full until the shutdown ended.
Their attorney said that late payment violates the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act and they're now owed damages – adding up to hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars per worker.
According to the website www.shutdownlawsuit.com – created to educate federal workers about the case and attract other possible plaintiffs – “liquidated damages will equal the minimum wages the government was required to pay essential employees but did not on their regularly scheduled payday and double the amount of the overtime that was unpaid on that date.”
Martina Copeland who works at the Federal Correctional Institution in Jesup, Georgia said, “With my family – me and my spouse work for the [Bureau of Prisons], which means that anytime there's a shutdown, neither of us are getting paid but yet our debtors don't care.”
Copeland said her family struggled to buy groceries, make mortgage payments and manage credit card debt. She said she was even turned away from a doctor's appointment because she couldn't afford the co-payment.
“I'm still incurring costs due to the shutdown because of interest payments, deferments,” she said.
But is this a Catch 22?
Except for members of the military, no federal workers could legally get paid during the shutdown.
Regardless, their attorney said it is not the employees' problem that Congress did not pass a continuing resolution to keep the government open.
Attorney Heidi Burakiewicz said, “That doesn't obviate [the government] from its requirement to follow the F.L.S.A. It's just like any other private employer in the country. If for some reason the owners of a business are bickering and can't get the checks out on time, that's an F.L.S.A. violation and it's the same thing here with the government.”
Burakiewicz said there are 1.3 million possible plaintiffs – federal workers deemed essential, who worked during the shutdown but did not get paid on-time, in-full. In fact, she said hundreds of them have already reached out to inquire about joining the lawsuit.
So far, there has been no response from the Department of Justice to the lawsuit or our requests for comment on this story.