WASHINGTON -- Not even three weeks since the shutdown ended, hundreds of federal employees who worked through the impasse have now filed paperwork to join a lawsuit against the government over having their paychecks withheld last month, according to the lawyers handling their case.
As HuffPost reported last week, the suit alleges that the federal government broke the Fair Labor Standards Act by delaying pay for "excepted" employees who were required to work during the shutdown. Although the suit originally named just five employees of the Bureau of Prisons, many more workers are expected to join the suit as plaintiffs in the coming weeks.
At a press conference Monday, the BOP employees said they were forced to delay credit card and other payments not knowing when their paychecks would finally come through. After receiving abbreviated checks early in the month for their pre-shutdown work, the workers said they didn't get paid again until Oct. 24. They all expressed concern that another shutdown would come, perhaps as early as January, and that they'd be forced to juggle their bills once again.
"It is fundamentally unfair for us to work without pay, because we have bills, we have families, and we need to put food on the table," said Donald Martin, a BOP worker from Atwater, Calif. "I'm hopeful others will join us in this lawsuit so we can send a message to the politicians here in D.C. that what they do -- the decisions they make -- do affect normal Americans. And we do stand to repeat this process again."
Jeff Roberts, a BOP employee from Fort Smith, Ark., said lawmakers didn't grasp the inconvenience and anxiety they created for the federal workers who didn't get their checks on their regular payday.
"The games that go on up here in Washington, D.C., in Congress, cannot change the mission that they have out there in Middle America," Roberts said. "It doesn't change, regardless of what they do up here. We still have a job to do."
The Fair Labor Standards Act is the Depression-era law that established the minimum wage and overtime pay. Excluding certain employees who are carved out of it, the law requires that employers pay their workers at least the minimum wage and time-and-a-half for overtime on their regularly scheduled payday.
As an employer, the government itself is not outside the statute. By delaying several days' worth of pay, the government effectively pushed workers' pay below the minimum wage within a certain pay period, according to the lawsuit, which was filed by the law firm Mehri & Skalet in federal claims court.
The lawsuit is yet another way in which the shutdown could ultimately end up costing money, as the workers seek damages for the government's alleged labor law violations. According to Heidi Burakiewicz, a lawyer with the firm, there are more than a million potential plaintiffs for the suit, all of whom worked through the shutdown as excepted personnel.