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Plaintiffs unpaid since Dec. 22 despite continuing to work

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FARMINGTON — A group of employees of Bureau of Indian Affairs agencies in Arizona and North Dakota is suing the federal government because they are working without pay during the partial federal government shutdown.

The lawsuit was filed last week by the Albuquerque-based union the Federation of Indian Service Employees in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C.

The union represents workers for the BIA, the Bureau of Indian Education, the Office of the Special Trustee and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs — all entities of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Union president Sue Parton explained the lawsuit pertains to employees of excepted status and not workers who are furloughed.

The seven named plaintiffs are employed as corrections or police officers, and have not received compensation for working regular hours and overtime since the shutdown began on Dec. 22.

One employee claims he has worked more than 70 hours of overtime since the closure started, according to the complaint.

A press release from the union states the employees cannot seek outside employment and are not allowed to strike.

They allege the lack of wages by the government is in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the government.

"They also have no assurances that they will be compensated with a minimum wage or paid for overtime once the shutdown ends," the release states.

The group is seeking past-due wages and overtime compensation, as well as liquidated damages and attorney fees.

The case has been assigned to a judge, and no further action had taken place as of Friday, according to court records.

Last month, the American Federation of Government Employees sued the government on behalf of employees in border patrol and transportation security agents, air traffic controllers and other personnel.

That lawsuit alleges the government is violating the federal wage law for making employees work without pay.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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