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Federal workers sue Trump administration over shutdown, allege work without pay violates 13th Amendment

The Hill logo The Hill 1/11/2019 Brett Samuels

a sign on the side of a building: Federal workers sue Trump administration over shutdown, allege work without pay violates 13th Amendment © Stefani Reynolds Federal workers sue Trump administration over shutdown, allege work without pay violates 13th Amendment Five federal government employees are suing President Trump and members of his administration, alleging that they've been unlawfully required to work without pay and barred from seeking alternative jobs during the ongoing partial government shutdown.

The lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, argues that requiring workers to report for duty without pay during the shutdown violates the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude.

The lawsuit also claims that the government violated the plaintiffs' Fifth Amendment rights by limiting their ability to seek alternative employment during the shutdown, which began Dec. 22.

The plaintiffs are not identified, but two work for the Department of Justice, and the other three work for the Departments of Transportation, Agriculture and Homeland Security. Four of the individuals have been required to work without pay during the shutdown, while one has been deemed nonessential, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint names President Trump, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

The lawsuit cites Trump's comments earlier this month that the shutdown could go on for "months or even years," leaving the plaintiffs in limbo for an extended period.

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The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction barring the government from requiring employees to report for work without pay during the shutdown, and prohibiting the government from restricting employees' ability to work elsewhere during the shutdown. About 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed or forced to work without pay for the time being due to the shutdown.

Two federal employees' unions have already sued the Trump administration over the partial government shutdown, which has dragged on for 20 days and counting.

The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 members at 33 federal agencies, filed a lawsuit on Tuesday alleging that hundreds of thousands of workers are being illegally forced to work without pay.

The American Federation of Government Employees union announced a similar lawsuit last week.

Trump has demanded for weeks that Congress provide more than $5 billion in funding for his proposed wall, something Democrats have staunchly opposed. The disagreement has been at the heart of the shutdown, which affects roughly 25 percent of the government.

The president has pledged to hold out for funding for the wall, arguing that furloughed federal workers support his position.

The Democratic-led House on Thursday passed a standalone spending measure Thursday to provide funding for the Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and other agencies. The bills are unlikely to be taken up in the Senate.

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