Federal Worker Unions Wary of Next Possible Shutdown

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By Louis C. LaBrecque

Federal employees should be “ready for anything” because another government shutdown could occur after Feb. 8.

The divisions that led to the most recent shutdown haven’t been resolved, just set aside for now, according to Steve Lenkart, executive director of the National Federation of Federal Employees, an AFL-CIO affiliate. This means that another shutdown could be right around the corner, he said.

“We’re telling our members to be ready for anything,” Lenkart told Bloomberg Law Jan. 23.

The most recent shutdown lasted just three days, and only one of them was a weekday. The back-pay provisions in the continuing resolution that reopened the government mean that all employees, even those told not to report to work during the shutdown, will be paid for the period, he said.

Does CR Cover Future Shutdowns?

The CR may also provide back pay for future shutdowns that take place before the current fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, Jessica Klement, legislative director for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, said.

“It’s my reading of the CR text that it provides back pay for any shutdown that could occur in FY18,” she told Bloomberg Law Jan. 23.

Others have interpreted the CR as applying only to the just-resolved shutdown.

The Congressional Research Service has looked at the issue several times and concluded that back pay can only be provided retroactively, a spokesman for Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) told Bloomberg Law. This means the CR only covers the shutdown that began Jan. 20 and ended Jan. 22, the spokesman said. New legislation will be needed if there’s another shutdown because Congress can’t act on back-pay legislation ahead of time, he said.

Beyer is the lead sponsor of a stand-alone bill introduced before the most recent shutdown began that would have provided back pay for federal workers. Congress agreed on similar legislation after the fact to provide back pay to federal workers affected by shutdowns in 2013 and the mid-1990s.

The question is “moot” because Congress has always acted to provide back pay to federal employees after shutdowns, Don Kettl, a public policy professor at the University of Maryland, told Bloomberg Law.

“One uncertainty that’s not on the table is whether federal employees will get back pay,” Kettl said.

Congress Urged to Pass FY 2018 Funding

Congress needs to provide federal funding for the remainder of the fiscal year and not just pass a new short-term funding bill, J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a Jan. 22 statement.

The length of the next funding bill is one of the issues that’s yet to be resolved, assuming Congress is able to agree on a bill, Kettl said.

The possibilities are another short-term funding bill, a longer-term bill that still doesn’t cover the rest of FY 2018, and legislation to provide funding for the remainder of the fiscal year, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Louis C. LaBrecque in Washington at llabrecque@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bloomberglaw.com

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