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Federal Workers Suing the Federal Government Over the Shutdown Just Accused the Trump Administration of Violating the 13th Amendment

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 17: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald Trump (C) talks to reporters during a cabinet meeting with (L-R) Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and others in the Cabinet Room at the White House October 17, 2018 in Washington, DC. Earlier this week Trump dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia and Turkey to meet with those countries' leaders about the disappearance of Saudi dissident and Washington Post opinion columnist Jamal Khashoggi. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Trump shutdown is officially the longest government shutdown in history. Though the federal employees who continue to work without pay are due to be compensated with back pay once the government reopens, some—like the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA)—say that back pay will be too little, too late.

As a result, NATCA has filed a suit against the federal government for the unlawful deprivation of wages from the 22,790 air traffic controllers the union represents.


The suit insists that back pay will not be enough to cover the losses incurred by the controllers, who have struggled to pay medical bills and at least one controller had to miss her grandmother's funeral due to going weeks without pay.

NATCA isn't the only group suing the government. One lawsuit is even invoking the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude in 1865. The plaintiffs of that suit include workers from the Department of Agriculture, of Justice, and of Transportation as well as one air traffic controller.

Because refusal to show up for work during the shutdown despite the lack of pay could result in the loss of their positions altogether, the suit alleges that the federal government is guilty of a form of 'coercion' -- or forced work -- that was prohibited by the 13th Amendment.

The attorney representing the plaintiffs, Michael Kator, told The Washington Post:

“Our plaintiffs find themselves in the exact same boat as virtually every other furloughed federal employee: bills to pay and no income to pay them. As this drags on, their situation will become more and more dire...If this is not resolved soon, affected employees may find that beginning February 1 they will no longer have health insurance, and, if this lasts ‘months or even years’ as the President has suggested, there will be defaults, foreclosures and even bankruptcies. A promise to pay back pay will not forestall those consequences.”

Twitter is standing with the workers.

They're also pointing out how the multiple lawsuits appear to contradict an earlier claim from President Donald Trump.

In an effort to justify his refusal to reopen the government by signing a budget that doesn't allocate over $5 billion for a wall at the southern border, Trump insisted that federal workers were on his side, despite not being paid.

The President said:

“A lot of people that you think are upset — and certainly they’re not thrilled — but they say, ’Sir, do the right thing. We need border security,’ and these are people that won’t be getting paid.”

J. David Cox Sr., President of the American Federation of Government Employees says this simply isn't true:

“There should be no confusion about whether federal employees want the government to reopen. They are eager to get back to work. They unequivocally oppose using shutdowns as a means of resolving policy disputes. This is not about a wall, this is about 800,000 real people with real families and real bills to pay."

Many believe the numerous lawsuits are an indication that federal workers are wholeheartedly against the idea that contention over an ineffective border wall is worth withholding their pay.

It's unclear if the lawsuits will add enough pressure for Trump to finally forego his wall.