clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Trump orders federal pay freeze for 2019

It comes at the worst time: in the middle of a government shutdown.

President Trump Attends Discussion On Federal Commission On School Safety Report Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Federal workers are really being left out in the cold this holiday season.

President Donald Trump issued an executive order on Friday freezing federal workers’ salaries for 2019, coming as hundreds of thousands of them are either furloughed or working without pay because of a political standoff over government funding.

The order halts the automatic 2.1 percent increase all civilian workers would have received under federal pay laws. Military personnel, who have been funded separately, will still receive a 2.6 percent raise.

Workers unions say Trump is pouring “salt into the wound” by delivering the pay freeze as 800,000 federal workers continue to shoulder the burden of a partial government shutdown. We’re now nine days into the political standoff between the president and Congress over Trump’s requested $5 billion for the border wall — with no end in sight. The Office of Personnel Management has even taken the unusual step of issuing guidance to workers about how to bargain with landlords and mortgage companies if they can’t make rent.

Trump initially announced the across-the-board pay freeze in August, saying the federal government couldn’t sustain the cost-of-living pay increase and that raises should be tied to performance. His decision was swiftly met with widespread outcry, and he then promised to “study” the matter over Labor Day weekend. But as Vox’s Emily Stewart noted at the time, the only “studying” he did that weekend was spending time at his golf club and tweeting at Fox News personalities.

Trump appointees may actually get a massive pay bump

Past presidents have eased up on scheduled raises for federal workers. President Barack Obama issued a two-year federal pay freeze in 2010 in response to the financial crash. And in 2012 and 2013, House Republicans stepped in to freeze pay for both federal workers and congressional staff.

There’s still a chance for federal workers to see that raise. Congress has the power to override the president’s executive order, and House Democrats have indicated a willingness to fund a pay increase. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) said a 1.9 percent cost-of-living pay raise would be the “first order of business” for Congress when it convenes in January. (The Senate already included a 1.9 percent bump in spending bills it passed earlier this year.)

And as the Washington Post notes, even top-level government employees may see their paychecks padded into the new year. The executive order points out that a 2013 pay freeze for senior officials is set to expire in January. If that goes into effect, the Post reports, then Trump’s political appointees may be eligible for “catch-up raises” that amount to thousands of dollars.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.