Federal union sues gov over shutdown details

Tuesday - 4/5/2011, 5:43pm EDT

By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

The largest federal employees' union is filing a lawsuit against the Obama administration for failing to provide details of agencies' shutdown plans.

The American Federation of Government Employees says the Office of Management and Budget did not respond to a March 2 Freedom of Information Act request for copies of shutdown contingency plans, according to an AFGE release.

Lawmakers are amidst budget talks to keep government operating past this Friday's deadline of the current short-term spending bill. As of Tuesday morning, a meeting with President Obama and congressional leaders did not produce a compromise.

"If a shutdown goes on, there will be federal employees who are going to be hurt financially," said AFGE President John Gage in the release. "They should know before the eve of a shutdown what is happening and it should be done orderly and not in a last-minute rush."

Every year, OMB provides agencies with guidance on how to prepare and operate during a funding gap. Agencies have had shutdown plans since 1980 and those plans are regularly updated, said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in February.

However, OMB has also instructed agencies to keep their shutdown plans under wraps.

"Agencies should not be previewing shutdown plans - that is, policy and operational decisions - in any way," according to OMB emails to agencies, as reported by USA Today.

AFGE and other federal unions have received "little information" on how federal programs and services will be impacted by a shutdown, according to the release.

The union, representing 600,000 government workers, has challenged the requirement that "essential employees" work during a shutdown without pay. Essential employees include workers who protect they protect life and property. A report by the Associated Press estimates about three out of four feds would not be subject to a furlough in the event of a shutdown.

Gage sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on March 28, stating unpaid work during a shutdown violates the 13th Amendment, prohibiting involuntary servitude. Gage has also sent a letter to Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry on March 28, asking how long "essential employees" can be required to work during a shutdown without pay.

According to a 1995 memo from OMB, essential employees are expected to report for work but are working for "delayed pay."

A bill introduced in the House last week would ensure military personnel are paid on time during a shutdown.

If the government shuts down next week, AFGE is encouraging employees to continue to report to their job sites to "demonstrate that they are ready to go back to work," according to the release.

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