Mandatory Unpaid Labor by Government Workers: Involuntary Servitude? Wages and Hours Violation?

These are probably stupid questions, but I never took Labor Law: Why is it that the U.S. government can require some workers (e.g. TSA) to do their jobs without pay? As a formal legal matter there is no way that the bosses can guarantee back pay will be forthcoming ever, since it’s axiomatic that money can only be disbursed from the Treasury pursuant to a Congressional appropriation. Theoretically, Congress might never vote the back pay.

Doesn’t the absence of a payment guarantee make the forced labor either involuntary servitude, or at least a wage-and-hours violation since it is work for less than the minimum wage (zero)?

I presume the answer to the 13th Amendment question might have something to do with terms in the employment contract, in that the government perhaps reserves the right to require the unpaid labor, or the worker gets fired. Or, more likely, it’s just that civilian workers (but not military personnel, in this case the Coast Guard?) have the choice to just not show up and be fired, as opposed to slavery/involuntary servitude when the worker has no option to quit. That option, I’m guessing, makes the servitude not ‘involuntary’ for 13th Amendment purposes?

But even so, how does this conform with minimum wage laws? Is it as simple as, no one brings the case, then backpay makes the matter moot? In which case, how long before someone files the complaint?

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One Response to Mandatory Unpaid Labor by Government Workers: Involuntary Servitude? Wages and Hours Violation?

  1. Just me says:

    Ask and you shall receive: https://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=683339628

    NPR story about labor plaintiff’s firm suing for unpaid wages. Apparently, this same firm has another case still working its way through the system from the last shutdown, and has, after much litigation, received a favorable ruling of law and is awaiting a ruling on damages. (Mind you, I haven’t looked into it and am just paraphrasing from the interview).

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