Largest federal worker union sues for pay lost in event of shutdown

The nation's largest federal employee union sued the Obama administration Friday, seeking the repayment of wages lost during a government shutdown. 

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) says in its lawsuit that the administration has violated the Constitution's appropriations clause and the 13th Amendment by requiring employees to work without pay during a federal closure. 

“Hundreds of thousands of federal employees will be required to work during a shutdown, and there’s no guarantee that Congress will keep the administration’s promise to pay those employees once the shutdown is over,” said John Gage, AFGE's general president, in a statement. “The Constitution requires an appropriation by Congress before federal dollars can be spent, no exceptions. ... Without an appropriation, the agencies simply can't spend money or incur debts by forcing employees to work.”

AFGE has 600,000 members who are federal and D.C. government workers.

The 13th Amendment became law in 1865, ending the practice of slavery and indentured servitude in the United States.  

The lawsuit says the administration cannot claim an emergency exception for employees to work during a shutdown since Congress cannot pay for debts when no appropriations have been passed to fund them. 

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and names Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew and Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry as defendants.  

Other federal worker unions, such as the National Treasury Employees Union, have pushed for legislation that will approve back-pay for workers furloughed during a government shutdown.