WASHINGTON – Work,work without pay or don’t work at all.
If there is a government shutdown next week,these are the realities facing government employees.
The unions representing them are doing their best to prepare members for any situation.
Colleen M. Kelley,president of the National Treasury Employees Union,said the threat of a shutdown and its consequences are very real.
“They will not be paid unless Congress takes action to pay them,” Kelley said. “It is possible employees could not work but also that they would not have a paycheck.”
During government shutdowns in 1995 and1996,employees were paid in full after the shutdown was over,for the days they did not work.
“I don’t want employees to count on that,” she said. “That is not a given.”
Essential employees – air traffic controllers,members of the military and others – will continue to work if the government shuts down in a budget impasse. But Congress will have to pass legislation to pay them. Those who are declared not essential may end up without pay for days not worked.
The NTEU represents 150,000 employees from 31 agencies,including the departments of Health and Human Services,Homeland Security,Customs and Border Protection and the Internal Revenue Service.
To prepare and keep the agencies up to date on information,Kelley said the NTEU and the agencies are in constant contact.
“To date,they’ve received a very general notice about what could happen,” she said. “This always happens. They’ll find out a couple of days before the shutdown date if they’ll be able to work.”
The difference between the current shutdown saga and the last one in 2011 is the lack of any appropriations bills to fund the government. The shutdown was averted in 2011,but some agencies’ spending bills had been approved,meaning those agencies could have stayed open.
Kelley said specific agencies such as the IRS could be hit hard by a shutdown.
“They bring in 93 percent of funds that fund the federal government,” she said. “There is very real revenue loss on the IRS,and the impact that has on the deficit and appropriations and the money stuff.”
Being shut down is a more real possibility for the smaller NTEU offices across the country,in Canada,the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
“Until we see the agency list of who is working,my expectation is that the smaller agencies will be shut down,” she said.
Taxpayers wanting to pay their taxes,for example,will not be able to do so if a shutdown occurs.
J. David Cox,national president of the American Federation of Government Employees,described the shutdown by a different term.
“We call it a lockout,” he said. “Our people want to go to work,and the Congress of the United States is choosing to lock us out of our jobs and prevent us from providing the services we provide.”
Affiliated with the AFL-CIO,the AFGE is the largest federal employee union in the country,representing 650,000 federal and D.C. employees nationwide and overseas.
The AFGE represents employees at many government agencies,including the Social Security Administration and the departments of Agriculture and Defense,among others.
He said President Barack Obama needs to keep his promise to union groups not to use them as a bargaining chip in the continuing battle.
“The president has to stand firm with the federal employees,” he said. “We want him to stand firm that he’s not going to bargain anymore over our pay and benefits.”
Republicans in the House of Representatives will make paying employees during or after a shutdown a tough issue to resolve,he said.
“They’ll fight tooth and nail about paying employees,” he said. “I believe it will be a very difficult task to get everybody paid.”
The AFGE will be holding rallies early next week across the country in cities such as Boston and Chicago to voice their opinion about the ongoing crisis.
“No other employer in this country requires their employees to work without guarantee of being paid,” he said.
He said focusing on the shutdown takes away from the union’s ability to do its daily work with agencies or bargain contract agreements.
“We won’t be focused on that because we’ll be focused on getting our members paid,” he said.
The Service Employees International Union,which represents more than a million local and state government workers,did not reply to a request for comment.
Reach Sean Bradley at [email protected] or 202-326-9866. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.