Federal Government Union Asserts Violation of 13th Amendment for Forcing Employees to Work Without Pay

April 11th, 2011

If the Federal Government had been shut down, and employees were forced to work without pay, would that amount to slavery? BLT has the story:

The American Federation of Government Employees will continue to pursue at least one of two lawsuits the group filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in the weeks leading up to Friday’s budget showdown. The first lawsuit (PDF), filed March 30, is a request for shutdown contingency plans under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

In the second lawsuit (PDF), filed Friday, union officials claim that any shutdown plan requiring federal employees to work without pay would be unlawful – and could in effect force workers to perform “involuntary servitude.”

The union argued that because workers would be owed back-pay, the federal government would be taking on a financial obligation without an appropriation already in place. This practice, the union claimed, would be a violation of the Constitution’s Appropriations Clause. The union also claimed that forcing employees to work without pay under threat of administrative discipline is unlawful.

“Defendants’ actions violate the Thirteenth Amendment’s prohibition on involuntary servitude,” the union states in its complaint. Both OMB and the Office of Personnel Management are named as defendants in the second lawsuit.

I wondered how the Executive branch could get around the 13th Amendment. Forcing employees to work without pay seems to raise 13th amendment issues.