Back pay backlash: Should federal workers really get shutdown pay?

Furloughed federal workers may be the only people who come out ahead in this shutdown mess. Photo: AP

CHICAGO, October 6, 2013  After four days of whimpering and sniveling from federal employees, the Republican-controlled House unanimously approved retroactive pay for furloughed workers affected by the shutdown Saturday.

Once passed by the Senate, 800,000 federal workers will receive billions of dollars in “free money” courtesy of U.S. taxpayers without lifting a federal finger. The back pay is the equivalent of a taxpayer-funded paid vacation.

Federal workers will be able to golf, snooze in front of their flat screens, or play Doodle Jump on their Androids to their heart’s content on the taxpayer’s dime.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has made the same comparison.

“What they’re [Republicans] telling all these federal workers: ‘What we’re going to do for you now, even though we don’t like federal workers and we haven’t given you a raise in three years, what we’re going to do now is give you a paid vacation,” Reid said.

But Reid also does not want to lose the Democrats’ strategic advantage against the GOP. His statement was another shutdown potshot at Republican leaders. For House Speaker John Boehner R-Oh., the legislative volley puts the onus on Senate Democrats like Reid to put up or shut up

The news also elicited an immediate reaction on Facebook:

“NO! No private business pays employees NOT to work during furloughs or shutdowns. Most companies even send employees home early, off the clock, if the day’s work is done early, too,” Mike Burnson wrote.

“It angers me because it’s a waste of tax dollars,” Tim DeYoung, another Facebook user, said.

Let the voter backlash begin. 

This week, mainstream media outlets continued to hammer Republicans with sob stories about suffering federal employees, demanding their jobs back, who have had to endure – for four days – the prospect of an uncertain future.

Democrats quickly joined in too.

“Federal employees have already contributed more than their share in trying to figure out this problem,” Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union said. “They’re caught in the middle of all this. It’s been 27 months without a raise, and now they’re facing furlough days through no fault of their own.”

“This is not their [federal workers’] fault and they should not suffer as a result [of the shutdown],” Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said.

Do Democrat leaders really believe this represents hardship or economic suffering?

Will the millions of private sector Americans who have endured extended unemployment or who have lost their homes to foreclosure be as sympathetic?

A report by the Urban Institute says that nearly 5 million (predominantly private sector) workers are classified as long-term unemployed while 900,000 have stopped looking for work. Three percent of the labor force has been out of work more than six months, not just four days.

Five million Americans have lost their homes to foreclosure and another three million are expected to lose their homes in the next three years.

These figures do not account for the millions of ‘underemployed’ workers whose taxes will be used to help pay the furloughed workers.

How can any member of Congress – in good conscience - compare the “plight” of federal workers with that of workers in the private sector since the recession began?

According to the Office of Management and Budget, the government paid out more than $2 billion on line items such as back pay to federal workers during the shutdowns of 1995 and 1996.

With the “average” federal employee salary at nearly $78,500, the current shutdown could be the most expensive of all. 

One of the arguments in favor of paying furloughed workers back pay is the fact that the federal government has “done it before.”

But that argument is circular at best: Why pay workers who aren’t working? Why does it matter whether the shutdown is their fault or not?

In contrast to their private sector counterparts, federal workers have enjoyed consistent employment during this prolonged recession. In fact, the federal government is one of the few sectors of the economy that has been growing, not shrinking.

The bad economy was not the fault of private sector workers. The private sector does not grant these employees back pay.

Apparently, the Beltway’s culture of entitlement is endemic to the mentality of most federal workers. This helps explains the rush at Capitol Hill to ensure the financial security of the furloughed workers.

With no end in sight to the government shutdown, once furloughed federal workers may end up being the only ones who come out of this mess ahead.

Workers may begin to get sick of Doodle Jump but few taxpayers will shed any crocodile tears.

Read more from Chicago with Bill Kelly’s Truth Squad

William J. Kelly is an Emmy award-winning TV producer and conservative columnist. He is also a contributor to the American Spectator and He is a native from Chicago’s Southside.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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William Kelly


Conservative commentator, satirist, and radio talk show host William J. Kelly pens the “Kelly Truth Squad” and “The Tea Party Report” for the Washington Times Communities and is a contributor to the American Spectator and Kelly is also a producer of Emmy award-winning TV and received an Emmy nomination himself for outstanding achievement on-camera. He was previously the Executive Director of the National Taxpayers United of Illinois, a taxpayer watchdog group. He is a native of Chicago’s South side. For more information, visit

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