It constitutes involuntary servitude

Russell Berman in the Atlantic:

Eric Young is the president of the union that represents the approximately 30,000 employees of the Federal Bureau of Prisons who are working during the government shutdown.

Young’s members, scattered at 122 facilities located in largely rural areas across the country, aren’t being paid and don’t know when their next paycheck will come. Like the leaders of virtually every federal-employee union during the past three weeks, he has condemned the shutdown and its toll on innocent workers as “unconscionable.”

“My personal opinion,” Young told me over the phone from his office in Arkansas, “is that it constitutes involuntary servitude.”

Neither Young nor any of his partners in union leadership, however, will urge their members to do the one thing that would seem most natural for employees facing the same treatment in the private sector: If they don’t pay you, stay home.

“We can’t call or advocate for a strike,” Young said.

Why? Because of the highly regressive Taft-Hartley act of 1947, which made it illegal for federal employees to go on strike. As far as I know it’s also illegal to force people to work for no pay, but heads the bosses win, tails the workers lose.

The current shutdown is a partial one affecting roughly 800,000 federal employees. Roughly half of them are on furlough, while the other half, whose jobs are considered essential to public health and safety, must report to work even though Congress has not appropriated the funds to pay them. This category includes the Secret Service agents who protect the president and his family, the Transportation Security Agents, pilots, and air-traffic controllers who keep the aviation system running, the corrections officers who staff federal prisons, and, yes, the Border Patrol agents who guard the southern divide with Mexico along which Trump wants to build a wall.

If they don’t show up, “they’d be considered absent without leave,” said Jacque Simon, the policy director for the American Federation of Government Employees, by far the largest union representing federal employees. “When they’re told to come to work, they are required to come to work.” An awol designation could lead to disciplinary action, including termination. For longtime government employees, that could put in jeopardy a federal pension they’ve spent a career accruing, union leaders said.

Trump doesn’t care. He said last weekend that they will “make an adjustment,” which is meaningless, but he doesn’t care. He’s not having to do without, and neither is Princess Ivanka, and that’s all he cares about.

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