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Border Protection officers sue Trump administration over pay missed during shutdown

Federal contract workers like Pablo Lazaro worry about saving money and paying bills as the government shutdown continues. (Video: Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post)

The National Treasury Employees Union became the second federal employees' union to file a lawsuit against the Trump administration over the shutdown.

The collective action alleges that more than 400,000 federal employees — including tens of thousands of NTEU members — are being forced to work without pay during the partial government closure.

The complaint asked that the named plaintiffs, Customs and Border Protection officers Eleazar Avalos and James Davis, and other similarly classified individuals be paid owed wages.

The government stalemate began Dec. 22. Since then, many federal agencies have temporarily closed, and workers' compensation has been indefinitely delayed because of a lapse in appropriated funds.

Even so, employees deemed “essential” or “excepted” have been expected to come to work. “Essential” government employees are those — like Avalos and Davis — who are “performing emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.”

Days after the shutdown began, the largest federal employee union, the American Federation of Government Employees, filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, alleging that hundreds of thousands of federal employees are illegally being forced to work without pay.

In that lawsuit, the two named plaintiffs, Justin Tarovisky and Grayson Sharp, are corrections officers with the federal Bureau of Prisons.

The NTEU lawsuit named Customs and Border Protection officer Albert Vieira as the plaintiff, though the union refiled a new complaint Wednesday naming Avalos and Davis as plaintiffs.

How ‘justice is being put on hold’ until the government shutdown ends

Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 members at 33 federal agencies and departments, previously called the shutdown “a travesty.”

“Federal employees should not have to pay the personal price for all of this dysfunction,” Reardon said.

Greg O’Duden, general counsel for the National Treasury Employees Union, told The Washington Post on Wednesday that it seems inevitable now that tens of thousands of employees will not receive their paychecks.

“I think there will be more people added as we move along, when they realize they’re being shortchanged and damaged in a serious way,” he said.

During a 16-day shutdown in 2013, a Washington-based law firm sued the government over the funding for President Barack Obama’s health-care law. Attorneys argued that failure to pay federal workers on their regularly scheduled payday violated the Fair Labor Standards Act.

A court agreed, ruling that the FLSA requires on-time payment of any minimum or overtime wages earned by employees falling within its coverage. It ordered the government to pay double the amount owed them. About 25,000 employees are still waiting to receive those damages.

‘Nothing short of inhumane’: Union sues Trump administration over shutdown

The lawsuit quotes President Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who warned earlier this week that “payroll will not go out as originally planned” if the stalemate did not end by midnight Tuesday.

It did not.

Now, the impasse continues with no end in sight.

Trump addressed the nation Tuesday evening and blamed congressional Democrats for a “growing humanitarian and security crisis” at the southern border.

“Democrats in Congress have refused to acknowledge the crisis, and they have refused to provide our brave border agents with the tools they desperately need to protect our families and our nation,” he said in the televised nine-minute appeal.

Democrats, in their rebuttal, argued that border security should be discussed separately from the shutdown after the government is reopened.

‘Chuck and Nancy’ present a united front in challenging Trump on border wall

As the partial shutdown entered its third week, Trump announced he was considering declaring a national emergency and circumventing Congress to begin construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders added Wednesday that the president is still thinking of doing so.

Read more:

President Trump threatened to declare a national emergency to get his wall. Can he do that?

The Take: President tries one more gambit in a battle he seems to be losing

Divisions grow within GOP over Trump’s shutdown strategy

Trump calls wall the only solution to ‘crisis of the heart’ at the border