A Democratic congressman has apologized after he said there has never been a precedent for making people work without pay, earning a swift social media reminder about the history of slavery.
“Never in the history of this country has it been legal to make people work for free but that’s what’s happening to federal employees,” Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont wrote on Twitter Tuesday in a criticism of the ongoing government shutdown. “This can never happen again.”
Welch was promoting a bill he plans to introduce that would provide back pay for federal employees currently working without pay and prevent employees from working without pay during the current or any future government shutdown.
The backlash on social media was quick.
“I was educated in the VT public school system, and I’m fairly certain we learned about slavery there,” one Twitter user tweeted.
Another commented, “I feel like this tweet is only 3/5ths correct.”
Roughly two hours later, Welch posted his “sincere apologies.”
“Nothing worse in the history of our country than the brutal inhumanity of the horrible, relentless, and savage infliction of involuntary servitude - slavery - on millions of people whose freedom was denied,” he wrote. “Nothing.”
At least one lawsuit challenging the government’s decision to require some federal employees to return to work without pay has cited the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery and “involuntary servitude.”