DHS: Working Without Pay

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I’ve got a deal for you.

I am going to let you work in a highly sensitive position, one that requires you to be ever vigilant and may even put you in physical danger. A job which is vital to our nation’s national security.

And, here’s the best part. I’m not going to pay you. At least not yet, maybe not for a long time.

At the end of the week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will run out of money. This department includes TSA workers, border patrol agents and the US Coast Guard. They are the first line of defense to ensuring that foreign terrorists do not get into the country. Seems it would be a no brainer to continue funding them, right? Unfortunately, the politicians in Washington are refusing to come to an agreement. At issue is the only remotely related subject of immigration (otherwise known as, how do we keep the non-whites out?).

If the DHS isn’t funded, the department won’t be able to pay its more than 200,000 workers. But guess what, as essential workers, they’ll still be required to come in to work. They just won’t get paid. Oh sure, they will eventually see pay checks once the funding comes through, but that could weeks or months.

Politically, many in Congress don’t see this lack of funding as a big deal. After all, the airplanes will keep flying, the border crossings will still be staffed. Ordinary citizens won’t notice a difference. Of course, this doesn’t include DHS employees, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck and will be stretched to make ends meet.

Most states have laws about how often employees must be paid. Where I work, if we didn’t pay our staff at least twice a month and on a regular basis, we would be subject to stiff fines and law suits. Yet the Federal government is exempt from such legislation. Sure, they may be state laws, but no government agency should be exempt from the same laws that apply to the private sector. And while it could be argued that these employees must work for the safety of the country, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t pay them anyway. It’s not a matter of not having the money, it’s a matter of not having it in the right bucket. And even if the country was broke, it always has assets it could sell (Washington Monument anyone?).

Oh, and by the way, Congress People who never took Psych 101, you’re even wrong about a shut down not effecting average Americans. Sure, we may not see an immediate impact, but we will notice its future impact. The DHS already suffers from low morale. Not paying them, and seemingly not caring enough to pay them, only makes it worse. And unhappy workers are not good workers. This is bad enough if they are clerks in a department store or driving a cab. It can be disastrous if they are checking bags for explosives at a boarding gate.

Having DHS employees work without pay also eliminates the need for politicians to resolve the issue. Think about the reaction if not funding the DHS meant all these people stayed home. How would voters react if they couldn’t get that flight to Cancun during spring break? More importantly, what would happen to their corporate campaign contributions if companies couldn’t get their goods through customs?

Making people work without pay is wrong. It’s bad business. That’s why even if the laws weren’t on the books, most employers would still pay employees in a timely manner.

Some DHS workers say they will refuse to go to work if they aren’t paid. They could be charged with being AWOL. They welcome these charges, and believe they would win in court.

I’m guessing it won’t come to this. A last-minute deal will be worked out. And if it isn’t, I think the politicians responsible should be required to pay the DHS out of their own private funds.

That would get a deal done quicker than it takes to pass through a metal detector at LAX.

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