Bloomberg Law
Jan. 10, 2019, 8:28 PM

Federal Unions Call for End to Shutdown During AFL-CIO Rally

Louis C. LaBrecque
Louis C. LaBrecque

Members of dozens of federal employee unions were represented at a rally Jan. 10 where one of the top messages was that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell needs to take up legislation to reopen the government.

“This lockout has to end now,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a speech kicking off the rally. “It’s time for McConnell and the Senate to act” on legislation to reopen the government that has already passed the House, Trumka said.

Supporters of federal employee unions in the Senate will keep up the pressure on McConnell (R-Ky.) to allow votes on bills to fund the nine departments that have been shuttered since Dec. 22, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told Bloomberg Law after addressing the rally. About 800,000 federal workers are directly affected by the shutdown, including about 420,000 who are working without pay and another 320,000 who have been furloughed, or told not to report to work.

The White House didn’t respond to requests for comment.

McConnell’s office directed Bloomberg Law to Jan. 10 floor remarks in which the majority leader said Senate Democrats supported a border wall during the Obama administration. “My Democratic colleagues need to get serious about their responsibilities, seek treatment for their brand-new partisan allergy to border security, sit down with the president, and negotiate a solution that works for everyone,” McConnell said.

More Rallies Ahead

More rallies are planned throughout the U.S., which will highlight the fact that about 85 percent of federal workers don’t live in the Washington area, Steve Lenkart, executive director of the National Federation of Federal Employees, an AFL-CIO affiliate, told Bloomberg Law. Federal employees and their unions also will be represented at the Women’s March in Washington on Jan. 19, Lenkart said.

Lila Johnson, who cleans office buildings for a USDA contractor, told Bloomberg Law that she’ll have an even tougher time making ends meet when she starts missing paychecks on Jan. 11. “It’s not fair to punish us” for a political dispute that has nothing to do with federal employees and contractors, said Johnson, a member of Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union.

Federal employees who are working during the shutdown even though their agencies have been closed will get paid when the shutdown ends. Whether furloughed employees get paid is up to Congress, although legislation to provide back pay to the workers has easily passed the House and Senate after previous shutdowns.

Contractor employees who aren’t working during the shutdown don’t get paid unless their employer chooses to pay them. Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced bills that would provide back pay for low-wage contractors, such as cafeteria workers and office cleaners, who’ve been idled because of the shutdown.

The departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, State, Transportation, and Treasury are shut down because of a lack of funding. Other agencies, such as the departments of Defense, Labor, and Veterans Affairs, are funded for the remainder of fiscal year 2019 and aren’t part of the shutdown.

To contact the reporter on this story: Louis C. LaBrecque in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at; Terence Hyland at