President Trump issued an executive order on Friday freezing pay for federal civilian workers in 2019, even as about 800,000 of them were either furloughed or working without pay because of a partial government shutdown.
The executive order follows a proposed pay freeze that the president outlined in the budget he sent to Congress last February, and in a letter he sent to Congress in August stating that he would cancel pay increases.
Federal workers may still receive a raise in 2019 if Congress approves it and the president signs it, perhaps as part of legislation to reopen the federal government. But that scenario would require resolving a fight between Democrats in Congress and the president over funding for a border wall, the issue at the heart of the shutdown.
[President Trump blamed Democrats on Saturday for the deaths of two detained migrant children.]
Some union officials representing federal government workers said they expected Congress to pass a nearly 2 percent increase, which the Senate has already done in a bipartisan vote, and the incoming Democratic House appears likely to do.
But union leaders nonetheless condemned Mr. Trump’s action as an unnecessary provocation.
“There is no economic or budgetary justification for the president’s freeze, and lawmakers agree that federal pay must rise not only as a matter of decency, but also in order to help agencies attract and retain the federal work force that America deserves,” J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a statement.
The executive order affects the pay of roughly two million civilian workers. The pay of military personnel is handled separately and is scheduled to rise by 2.6 percent in 2019 as part of a military spending measure that the president signed this summer.
Under complicated federal pay rules, pay for government employees would have automatically increased by roughly 2 percent in January, with additional raises of considerably more based on workers’ locations, if neither Congress nor the president took action this year.
The Senate passed a 1.9 percent increase, but the House never followed suit, opening the door for the president to act unilaterally on his proposed freeze.
“Our federal work force protects our nation, ensures the safety of our food and medicine, delivers Social Security and veterans’ benefits, and carries out countless other responsibilities on behalf of our citizens,” Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, said in a statement while proposing to add the increase to a short-term funding bill earlier this month.
“But President Trump is poised to give them the gift of a pay freeze if Congress fails to act.”
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