But­ner prison of­fi­cers work­ing with­out pay

The News & Observer - - Front Page - BY CRAIG JARVIS [email protected]­sob­server.com

Cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers at the prison com­plex in But­ner are among the fed­eral em­ploy­ees who have been forced to work with­out pay dur­ing the par­tial gov­ern­ment shutdown, and could soon join a law­suit chal­leng­ing the policy.

They are among the work­ers and con­trac­tors start­ing to feel the ef­fects of the bud­get im­passe that has stretched on for three weeks. In North Carolina, more than 1,000 fed­eral work­ers have ap­plied for unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits be­cause of the shutdown, ac­cord­ing to the state De­part­ment of Com­merce.

An es­ti­mated 7,800 peo­ple in the fed­eral work­force in North Carolina are af­fected by the shutdown caused by the bud­get im­passe over Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s pro­posed bor­der wall, The Washington Post reports.

“It’s re­ally stress­ful be­cause we go to work, a lot of us have 18, 19 years in with no prob­lems, and we do ev­ery­thing they ask us to do, and all we ask is make sure our pay is in our bank

ac­counts, and it’s not,” Michael Sharp, a But­ner cor­rec­tional of­fi­cer and union lo­cal of­fi­cial, said Fri­day at a protest out­side the fed­eral build­ing in Raleigh. “So that’s a prob­lem — that’s a ma­jor prob­lem.”

Law­suits filed this week by work­ers’ unions are chal­leng­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s re­quire­ment that em­ploy­ees in some jobs are so es­sen­tial that they have to show up even though they are not get­ting paid for now.

Dozens of fed­eral work­ers at the Fed­eral Cor­rec­tional Com­plex in But­ner and else­where in North Carolina have ex­pressed sup­port for le­gal ac­tion, ac­cord­ing to one of the at­tor­neys in a Washington, D.C., law firm in­volved in the law­suit.

“Those em­ploy­ees are do­ing a very dan­ger­ous job mak­ing sure that in­mates stay in­side the prison there,” Robert DePri­est said in an in­ter­view. “They shouldn’t have to, on top of that, worry about pay.”

DePri­est said at­tor­neys are in close con­tact with But­ner cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers and other work­ers from across state agen­cies who live in this state.

FRI­DAY WOULD HAVE BEEN PAY­DAY

Fed­eral prison of­fi­cers, bor­der pa­trol agents, im­mi­gra­tion agents and air­port trans­porta­tion se­cu­rity of­fi­cers are among the ap­prox­i­mately 400,000 em­ploy­ees cur­rently work­ing with­out pay. Typ­i­cally paid bi­weekly, the next pay­day was sched­uled to be Fri­day.

An­other ap­prox­i­mately 400,000 fed­eral work­ers have been fur­loughed with­out pay and are not al­lowed to re­turn to work.

In Re­search Tri­an­gle Park, about 2,000 U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency em­ploy­ees have been fur­loughed, and there is a rip­ple ef­fect on con­trac­tors.

Fur­loughed work­ers who sign up for unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits have to re­pay the state once they re­turn to work if Congress al­lo­cates back pay. Fed­eral work­ers aren’t nec­es­sar­ily pro­hib­ited from tak­ing out­side jobs dur­ing the fur­lough, but many at agen­cies like the EPA have to be cau­tious that they don’t vi­o­late ethics rules, ac­cord­ing to an agency memo on the shutdown.

The law firm where DePri­est works sued on be­half of two fed­eral prison guards in the U.S. Court of Fed­eral Claims. It was re­tained by the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Gov­ern­ment Em­ploy­ees, the largest such union in the coun­try.

The law firm suc­cess­fully sued dur­ing the pro­tracted fed­eral gov­ern­ment shutdown in 2013, when a judge ruled the em­ploy­ees were en­ti­tled to have been paid at the time they were work­ing. The at­tor­neys ar­gued that la­bor law re­quired the gov­ern­ment to pay at least min­i­mum wage and over­time to those re­quired to work even though they even­tu­ally re­ceived back pay, ac­cord­ing to The Washington Post.

The National Trea­sury Em­ploy­ees Union has also sued for be­ing forced to work with­out com­pen­sa­tion. Bor­der pro­tec­tion agents are the plain­tiffs.

The three law­suits ask a fed­eral judge to cer­tify them as a col­lec­tive ac­tion so that all em­ploy­ees in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion are in­cluded. In a col­lec­tive ac­tion, em­ploy­ees have to opt in by sign­ing up for le­gal representation.

FOOD PANTRY SEES SPIKE

A food pantry in Raleigh run by the A. Philip Ran­dolph In­sti­tute, a non­profit group that ad­vo­cates for the needy, reports it has seen a spike in visi­tors who say they are there be­cause of the shutdown. Kim­berly Davis said the pantry ur­gently needs toi­let pa­per, tooth- paste, milk and meat.

“It’s scary,” she said while at­tend­ing Fri­day’s protest, “be­cause that af­fects grand­par­ents, it af­fects chil­dren, it af­fects a lot of peo­ple.”

Nearly 100 peo­ple par­tic­i­pated in the protest, in­clud­ing mem­bers of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Gov­ern­ment Em­ploy­ees and other unions. Fed­eral work­ers’ unions held sim­i­lar ral­lies across the coun­try this week.

Sharp said But­ner work­ers typ­i­cally live up to an hour’s drive away, so there is a fi­nan­cial strain in hav­ing to buy gas, food and medicine with­out get­ting paid.

“It’s go­ing to be real bad after this week­end be­cause we’re sup­posed to get paid,” he said. “It’s a shame they’re playing games with peo­ple’s lives just for a wall that, re­ally, it don’t ex­ist.”

An­other But­ner worker and union of­fi­cial, Wal­ter Green, said Trump and Congress should open the gov­ern­ment back up and then ne­go­ti­ate over the bor­der wall.

“Some­times I think some peo­ple don’t re­al­ize how im­por­tant is the job that we do,” Green said. “We’re the ones who end up hav­ing to deal with those guys that so­ci­ety says they don’t want to deal with any­more, and try to keep it a peace­ful place. Then you want to cut our fund­ing? It’s just turn­ing out bad.”

Ken Krebs said EPA sci­en­tists like him­self and en­gi­neers who work in Re­search Tri­an­gle Park are gen­er­ally in a bet­ter po­si­tion to weather the shutdown than are some em­ploy­ees such as prison and air­port work­ers. But, he said, re­search has been put on hold.

“We were sup­posed to go on a sam­pling trip next week,” he said. “There were a lot of ne­go­ti­a­tions with the plant. Now we’ll have to start those ne­go­ti­a­tions all over again. It’s been very dis­rup­tive.”

HOW LONG WILL MONEY LAST?

The shutdown of some fed­eral agen­cies has states wor­ried that they will have to pick up the cost of fed­er­ally funded pro­grams. In North Carolina, state agen­cies have said they have enough money to cover sev­eral weeks.

Gov. Roy Cooper wrote a let­ter to Trump that the Demo­cratic gov­er­nor re­leased on Wed­nes­day urg­ing an end to the shutdown.

State of­fi­cials are keep­ing an eye on funds for poor fam­i­lies, food stamps and chil­dren’s nu­tri­tion. The state health agency says it will likely run out of money for those pro­grams in Fe­bru­ary.

“We will con­tinue to mon­i­tor fund­ing levels and are work­ing closely with our fed­eral part­ners on con­tin­gency plans to ex­tend these pro­grams as long as pos­si­ble,” the state De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices said in an emailed re­sponse Wed­nes­day. “For the short term, we do not ex­pect any ma­jor im­pacts for the in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies we serve or for our em­ploy­ees at DHHS.”

State agri­cul­ture of­fi­cials have said hun­dreds of farm­ers are un­able to sub­mit dis­as­ter-re­cov­ery grant ap­pli­cants be­cause of the shutdown. Cooper has said the im­passe also de­lays other dis­as­ter re­lief, in­clud­ing grants for re­build­ing.

Fed­eral courts con­tinue to op­er­ate even though the money to pay per­son­nel runs out this month. U.S. at­tor­neys are given the responsibility of de­cid­ing who is fur­loughed or who must keep work­ing with­out pay.

U.S. At­tor­ney Robert Hig­don Jr. in the East­ern Dis­trict of North Carolina said in an email that em­ploy­ees with pub­lic safety and national se­cu­rity roles re­main at work. All of the crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tors in his of­fice re­main on duty with­out pay. Civil at­tor­neys un­able to resched­ule dead­lines or ap­pear­ances are be­ing al­lowed to work.

Cru­cial sup­port staff re­main on the job but their salaries will be paid after the shutdown is re­solved, he said.

ROBERT WIL­LETT rwil­[email protected]­sob­server.com

Mike Jones of Cary, an En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency em­ployee, marches with nearly 100 other pro­test­ers Fri­day out­side the Fed­eral Build­ing on New Bern Av­enue urg­ing U.S. Sens. Thom Til­lis and Richard Burr to end the gov­ern­ment shutdown that be­gan three weeks ago.

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