Democrats Try to Stop Eviction of Unpaid Federal Workers

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

With landlords preparing eviction notices for unpaid federal workers – and their families – from rental housing and banks scheming to repossess their cars for unpaid loans, Senate Democrats are trying to stop the pain.

The legislation by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, drew support from 24 other Democrats, including Minority Leader Charles Schumer. Two top union leaders who represent federal workers, Tony Reardon of the Treasury Employees (NTEU) and Paul Shearon of the Professional and Technical Employees (IFPTE), strongly support it.

The legislation may not come up for a vote in January, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., allowed two votes on measures to end GOP President Donald Trump’s month-long lockout/shutdown of federal workers and their agencies.

Egged on by right-wing radio talk show hosts, House Republicans and his own staff, Trump shut several Cabinet departments and related agencies at midnight Dec. 21 after agreeing to, and then welshing on, a measure to keep them open through the rest of this fiscal year.

Instead, Trump demanded lawmakers give him $5.7 billion to build a wall on the Mexican border before he’d reopen the government.

Trump sent some 350,000 workers home without pay and forced 450,000 others, including federal fire fighters, airport screeners and IRS workers, to toil without pay since then.

It’s those workers, minus two paychecks now, who are facing eviction, auto repossession, ruined credit and other problems because they have no money to pay bills. These are the workers who Schatz, Schumer and the other Democrats are trying to help.

"Amidst another push to open the government, I am fighting with my colleagues for necessary financial protections for impacted federal workers during this shutdown and for workers of any future shutdown, because no federal public servant should have their financial well-being held hostage by a president unwilling to simply open the government in the middle of a debate," Schumer said. 

"While the president and Senate Republicans struggle to get their act together, real people are suffering,” said Schatz. “Right now, thousands of federal workers and their families are struggling to pay rent and make ends meet. It’s absolutely unacceptable. Our bill will protect federal workers and make sure they aren’t harmed because of a political stunt.”

 

The Schatz-Schumer bill, the Federal Employee Civil Relief Act, would bar landlords and creditors from taking action against federal workers or contractors hurt by the government shutdown and unable to pay rent or repay loans, a Schatz fact sheet says.

The measure is modeled after legislation that already covers families of military service members. It would also empower federal workers to sue creditors or landlords that violate this protection. One co-sponsor, Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said she’ll try to insert it in funding bills coming up for votes.

“People who took an oath to serve their country as federal employees should not have to worry about being evicted, having their car repossessed or going further into debt because of a government shutdown,” said Reardon, whose union represents many of the workers, notably the IRS workers, whom Trump has ordered back on the job to toil without pay.

The measure “would protect the nation’s federal workforce, many of whom are suffering after nearly three weeks without pay. The Federal Employee Civil Relief Act would give frontline federal workers a reasonable amount of time to catch up on their bills once the shutdown ends and their income is restored. Federal employees around the country are grateful there are members of Congress who are looking out for them in their time of need.”

Shearon’s union, IFPTE, lauded Schumer, Schatz and House Democratic sponsor Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., “for authoring this critically important bill.” His union includes engineers, scientists and – ironically – immigration judges who face an enormous caseload of applicants waiting the enter the U.S. and whose cases can’t get judged because Trump has shut down their agency.

“This legislation will provide much needed relief to federal employees who may be facing civil actions against them due to a lapse in pay that has resulted because of the government shutdown. It is truly unfortunate that President Trump is using these civilian workers and their families as political pawns to achieve a political goal,” Shearon added.

“The real-life ramifications on these working Americans are hard choices between feeding their families, and meeting other financial obligations. The Federal Employee Civil Relief Act will provide impacted workers additional time after a shutdown to meet their financial obligations that would otherwise result in actions against them such as eviction, foreclosure and other civil claims.”

But while Schumer, Schatz and Co., come to the aid of the feds, two other large groups of people hurt by the shutdown are, so far, out in the cold, and many not be made whole even when, or if, the government reopens.

One is contract workers – janitors, fast food workers, security guards and their colleagues, many of them represented by the Service Employees. They’re not federal workers, so the Schumer-Schatz bill doesn’t cover them. Nor does legislation Trump signed Jan. 16 saying federal workers would get retroactive back pay. Maryland’s two Democratic senators and Sen. Tina Smith, DFL-Minn., are trying to get pay retroactivity for contract workers, too.

But another large group of people – recipients of federal housing Section 8 vouchers and other aid to low-income people -- also face auto repossession and eviction notices. Landlords are demanding Section 8 renters pay full freight, replacing the federal Housing Department subsidies the landlords usually get.

Otherwise, those poor could be out on the street as early as February.

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Uber Drivers Deserve Legal Rights and Protections

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

In an advisory memo released May 14, the U.S. labor board general counsel’s office stated that Uber drivers are not employees for the purposes of federal labor laws.

Their stance holds that workers for companies like Uber are not included in federal protections for workplace organizing activities, which means the labor board is effectively denying Uber drivers the benefits of forming or joining unions.

Simply stating that Uber drivers are just gig workers does not suddenly undo the unjust working conditions that all workers potentially face, such as wage theft, dangerous working conditions and  job insecurity. These challenges are ever-present, only now Uber drivers are facing them without the protection or resources they deserve. 

The labor board’s May statement even seems to contradict an Obama-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that couriers for Postmates, a job very similar to Uber drivers’, are legal employees.

However, the Department of Labor has now stated that such gig workers are simply independent contractors, meaning that they are not entitled to minimum wages or overtime pay.

While being unable to unionize limits these workers’ ability to fight for improved pay and working conditions, independent contractors can still make strides forward by organizing, explained executive director of New York Taxi Workers Alliance Bhairavi Desai.

“We can’t depend solely on the law or the courts to stop worker exploitation. We can only rely on the steadfast militancy of workers who are rising up everywhere,” Desai said in a statement. 

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