Democrats challenge Trump’s pay freeze

By on 02/01/2019 | Updated on 24/09/2020
US President Donald Trump has issued an executive order to freeze federal workers' pay (Image courtesy: Gage Skidmore).

A group of senators have urged Donald Trump to reverse his decision to freeze pay rates for civilian public sector workers “in the strongest possible terms”.

Senators Mark Warner, Chris van Hollen, Maizie Hirono, Tim Kaine, Benjamin Cardin and Sherrod Brown, all members of the Democratic party, wrote to Trump after he reaffirmed his commitment to the pay freeze through an executive order issued on 28 December. The order simultaneously grants a pay rise of 2.6% for military employees.

Trump initially proposed the freeze on public sector pay in his budget recommendations last year. In August, a spending package including a 1.9% pay rise was approved almost unanimously by the Senate; and in September, Trump said that he was reviewing the planned pay freeze.

Pawn in a bigger game

The freeze further penalises workers hit by a government shutdown that began on 22 December, the senators said, following political disputes over funding for Trump’s promised border wall between the US and Mexico. Some 340,000 federal staff have been sent home with no guarantee of back pay, whilst half a million more are likely to receive their pay late.

This week, Democrats set out their intention to pass six Senate appropriations bills when they retake control of the House of Representatives on Thursday 3 December, funding currently-closed departments and agencies – and reinstating a 1.9% pay rise for civil servants. But reported that Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is expected to block calls for a vote on the bills, which don’t include funding for Trump’s wall, until the president is happy with the whole funding package.

Adding injury to insult

In their letter, the senators accused Trump of “months of indecisiveness and mixed signals”.

“Freezing pay for federal workers adds insult to injury for dedicated public servants already subject to political attacks and gamesmanship,” they wrote.

“There should be a particular sense of urgency in bolstering, rather than undermining, the competitiveness of the federal workforce considering that the share of federal employees eligible for retirement is expected to rise to 30% in five years,” it stated.

The pay freeze amounts to an “unsubstantiated proposal” which hampers both workers’ economic security and the state’s ability to compete with the private sector, it added.

The National Treasury Employees’ Union, which represents 150,000 workers at 33 agencies and departments, welcomed the senators’ show of support. “The actions of the White House in putting a freeze in place while employees are struggling to figure out how to stretch their budgets is insulting,” said union national president Tony Reardon.

About Catherine Early

Catherine is a journalist and editor specialising in government policy and regulation. She writes predominantly about environmental issues and has held permanent roles at the Environmentalist (now known as Transform), the ENDS Report, Planning magazine and Windpower Monthly, and has also written for the Guardian, the Ecologist and China Dialogue. She was a finalist in the Guardian’s International Development Journalism competition 2009, and was part of the team that won PPA Business Magazine of the Year 2011 for Windpower Monthly. She also won an outstanding content award at Haymarket Media Group’s employee awards for data-led stories in Planning magazine. She holds a 2:1 honours degree in English language and literature from Birmingham University.


  1. Karen says:

    I don’t see how the US can afford to build a wall. I wonder how much debt we can carry before the economy fails. To me it feels like money doesn’t have any value anymore. Its just numbers electronically passing back and forth over the internet.

  2. Jen Dras says:

    They never challenged Obama when he froze our pay for three years.

    • Annie Stewart says:

      I love it when comments goes back to Obama. Number 35 has been in office for almost 2 years. Is it possible that comments reflect the current situation rather than focus on what took place when Obama had a Republican controlled Congress to deal with? Number 35 also had a Republican controlled Congress when this pay freeze started. Oops, I did it too. My bad.

    • Wendy03 says:

      My thoughts exactly. Fully expected the Dems to suddenly care about federal workers. Don’t forget that whopping 1% increase, as well, after the three year freeze….

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