WASHINGTON -- A federal judge ruled yesterday that more than 1 million federal workers must remain on the job during the budget impasse even though they have no firm guarantee they will be paid. He said the ruling was necessary to avoid chaos in the government.
Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said he was "troubled" about some of the government's arguments in favor of forced work without pay, however, and indicated he might change his mind on the issue later.
For now, he said, a federal workers' labor union had not made a case for sending home any of the 1 million-plus workers who are under orders to go on working at jobs the government considers essential. Some 800,000 other workers, supposedly not essential, have been furloughed.
Although none of those still working has any binding assurance of being paid, congressional leaders have promised that they would receive paychecks after the budget impasse was over. Judge Sullivan noted that Congress has always made such adjustments during past episodes of delayed funding of
The judge did act to keep the union's challenge alive. He did so on a document-filing schedule that runs through Dec. 6 -- perhaps enough time for President Clinton and Congress to work out a budget deal that could end the work-without-pay dispute.
The American Federation of Government Employees asked Judge Sullivan to stop the government from compelling any workers to report to work without an enforceable guarantee they would eventually be paid. Forced work without such a guarantee DTC is illegal, the union contended.
In his ruling yesterday, the judge said that an order against unpaid work would mean that the entire government would have close. "The harm to the government," he added, "would be devastating, at least, and catastrophic at worst."