Air Traffic Controllers, Working Unpaid, Sue U.S. Over Shutdown

Andrew Harris and Carlyann Edwards
Air Traffic Controllers, Working Unpaid, Sue U.S. Over Shutdown

(Bloomberg) -- The National Air Traffic Controllers Association sued the U.S. government for forcing its members to work without pay as a partial government shutdown nears day 22, the longest on record.

The air traffic controllers union is seeking a court order compelling the U.S. to account for all the wages and overtime pay to which its approximately 3,000 members are entitled and to pay them. The union claims the government is depriving its members of their earned wages without due process, in violation of the 5th Amendment of the Constitution.

It’s at least the third lawsuit filed by government workers since the shutdown began 21 days ago. The National Treasury Employees Union filed a complaint representing a Customs and Border Protection officer on Monday. The American Federation of Government Employees filed a similar lawsuit on Dec. 31.

The workers may encounter another snag though. Judges throughout the country have been putting civil suits involving the U.S. on hold because government lawyers are also affected by the partial shutdown and unable to work in many cases. But U.S. District Judge Richard Leon in Washington scheduled a hearing for Monday on the traffic controllers’ union’s request for a temporary restraining order.

The traffic controllers also claim the government is violating the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to pay overtime and at least the minimum wage for all hours worked.

The jobs are so demanding that the Federal Aviation Administration “struggles to maintain a full complement of certified Air Traffic Controllers, even under normal circumstances," the union said in its complaint.

Workers began sharing photos of their $0 paychecks Thursday night.

"Even knowing it was coming it’s still hard to swallow," Jeffrey Plendl, a union official, wrote on Twitter.

Both the Department of Justice and the FAA declined to comment on the lawsuit. Air traffic controllers, traffic management coordinators and other aviation safety professionals that NATCA represents continue to work without knowing when their next paycheck will come.

The case is National Air Traffic Controllers Association v. U.S., 19-cv-62, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

(Updates with hearing date in fourth paragraph.)

--With assistance from Alan Levin.

To contact the reporters on this story: Andrew Harris in Washington at;Carlyann Edwards in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: David Glovin at, Joe Schneider, Peter Blumberg

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