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Top judge calls all Minnesota's federal court workers 'essential'

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The Federal Courthouse Building in Minneapolis.
Workers at the Federal Courthouse building in Minneapolis may soon have to work without pay.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2016

Hundreds of federal court employees in the District of Minnesota will soon have to work without pay if the partial government shutdown drags on. 

Chief Judge John Tunheim is among them. Tunheim said there are enough funds to cover paychecks through this week and possibly into early next week. After that, he says he'll designate all federal court employees as "essential," meaning they will be compelled to work without pay.

"We have 223 employees that will fall into that category," Tunheim explained. "I'm not going to designate anyone as non-essential. We have a relatively lean workforce and I think everyone is really necessary to continue the mission of the court."

Tunheim noted that going without a paycheck right now will be particularly difficult for people facing unpaid holiday bills.

"It's difficult to contemplate the possibility of lost paychecks even if there is some level of certainty that they'll be reimbursed at a later time, although Congress would make that decision," said Tunheim. "It's a tough time of the year following the holidays."

Tunheim said federal courts across the country have taken steps to reduce costs. Among them are hiring freezes, bans on non-essential travel, and a suspension of training programs.

Tunheim said if the shutdown drags on much longer, he expects some employees will decide to leave their jobs with the federal court system.