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October 3, 2013
Will furloughed workers eventually get paid?

The federal payroll means a lot to Tooele County, not only to families that work for the government, but also to local businesses that rely on them for income.

The federal government pays out a total of $8 million per month to its employees in the county. The Department of Defense alone is the county’s second largest employer.

The impact of the shutdown will depend on the length of the work stoppage, and who does and does not get paid for the furlough period.

“Right now, we understand that those workers that are working through the furlough will get paid, but not until the shutdown is over,” said Miceal Unrein, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2185.

Unrein also noted that following the last shutdown in 1996, Congress passed a bill that provided back pay to all furloughed employees.

“We have not heard any promise that furloughed employees will be paid this time,” he said.

Although the federal government has shutdown, some employees continue to work. Workers related to the safety of human life and the protection of property are exempted from the shutdown process.

Also exempt are programs funded by laws other than annual appropriations, like mandatory spending for entitlements such as Social Security; programs funded by multi-year appropriations that have already been approved; and activities that have already been authorized by statute, such as contract authority.

Many of these “excepted” employees that work through the shutdown will not receive a paycheck until Congress ends the shutdown by approving an appropriations act.

All other federal workers that are not excepted from work are put in non-duty, non-pay status, also known as furlough, and wait until they hear from their supervisor that the shutdown has ended before returning to work.

While Congress has approved back pay for furloughed workers in past shutdowns, Congress is under no obligation to pay them for furloughed hours.

Since 1977 there have been 17 federal government shutdowns. Some lasted for less than a day. The longest lasted 21 days from Dec. 16, 1995 to Jan. 6, 1996.

“This shutdown has been real fluid and the rules keep changing,” Unrein said. “It’s been hard on many federal workers that find themselves now furloughed after the recent end of pay cuts mandated by federal budget sequestration.”

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