A federal judge denied a request to force the government to pay federal workers during the ongoing partial government shutdown.
Judge Richard Leon on Tuesday refused to issue a temporary restraining order requested last week in two lawsuits filed by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) and the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). The lawsuits challenged the shutdown, which has become the longest in U.S. history, at 25 days so far, thanks to President Donald Trump’s refusal to sign any funding bill that doesn’t include $5.7 billion for his proposed border wall.
Leon said in his ruling that he empathizes with furloughed federal workers but that only Congress can provide funding. He said that the judiciary should not wade into what he called a political “squabble,” according to NBC’s Charlie Gile.
“The judiciary is not, and cannot be, just another source of leverage,” Leon said in his ruling, Gile tweeted.
The NATCA lawsuit, filed Jan. 11, accuses the Trump administration of violating the Fifth Amendment by depriving air traffic controllers of “hard-earned compensation without the requisite due process.” The lawsuit also alleges that the Federal Aviation Administration violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by not paying minimum wage to controllers being required to work during the shutdown.
“Although we are disappointed with the judge’s ruling denying NATCA’s motion for a temporary restraining order, we are encouraged that he acknowledged the ongoing hardships our members are facing because of the shutdown,” said NATCA Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert.
The NTEU lawsuit, filed Jan. 8, challenges the constitutionality of the Antideficiency Act, which agencies depend on to require some employees to work during a government shutdown. The lawsuit requests that the Trump administration immediately stop spending money that has not been appropriated by Congress. The union represents 150,000 people working at nearly three dozen agencies.
The NTEU said in a statement after the ruling that the Internal Revenue Service plans to end furlough for more than half its workforce to prepare for tax season, meaning that up to 46,000 IRS employees could be forced to work without pay during the shutdown. The union represents about 70,000 IRS workers, most of whom have been furloughed since nine of the federal government’s 15 departments closed Dec. 22.
But the case is not over. Leon will hear arguments on the unions’ request for a preliminary injunction against the government on Jan. 31.
“We look forward to continuing our argument that the administration cannot require more and more employees to report to work without pay,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said in a statement.
Air traffic controllers last Thursday missed their first paycheck since the shutdown began. A day later, hundreds of thousands of other federal workers missed their first paycheck of the year because of the shutdown. The American Federation of Government Employees also filed a lawsuit against the federal government, alleging that employees should not be forced to work without pay.
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