Yahoo: As shutdown grinds on, furloughed workers rally

Originally published by Yahoo on January 9, 2019

By Christopher Wilson

At a rally in downtown Philadelphia, furloughed government workers joined by four members of Congress expressed frustration at the prolonged partial government shutdown.

“I’m fighting for my job,” Sharyn Roberts told Yahoo News during Tuesday’s event. “We need to reopen government so federal employees can be paid. We have families and we have bills and they need to be paid. We have health insurance, car insurance, mortgages, rent and it’s unfair. I’m a 39-year federal employee with federal service and this is like crazy to me. I’ve never been through anything like this before.”

The shutdown, now at 19 days, is the second-longest in history. The longest was a 21-day shutdown spanning Dec. 16, 1995 to Jan. 6, 1996. Trump has refused to agree to any deal that doesn’t provide billions in funding for a border wall and congressional Republicans have declined to join with Democrats for a veto-overriding funding bill.

The rally was organized by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). Its attendees included Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican, and Democratic Reps. Dwight Evans, Brendan Boyle and Mary Gay Scanlon. State Sen. Vincent Hughes of Philadelphia, a Democrat, also attended.

“We’re here to get the word out to the American public to stop the shutdown,” said Dave Fitzpatrick, an AFGE rep and National Park Service employee who was set to retire on Dec. 30 but is limbo due to the shutdown. “This is a nonpartisan rally. We just want to go back to work. We want to put the federal workers back to work. I just met a gentleman from Spain. He came here to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. He’s got to go back home and won’t be able to see those things.”

“Enough is enough, and that’s what we need people to understand,” said Evans, who represents part of Philadelphia. “We’ve got to stop playing with people’s lives and get this solved.”

“The national emergency is that the president has had a temper tantrum and he has shut down the government,” said Scanlon, when asked if she agreed with the White House’s framing of the border situation. “Both the Senate and the House have passed bipartisan bills that would reopen the government and the only reason it’s not open is because this president is trying to fulfill a campaign pledge.”

Furloughed federal workers, joined by elected officials, hold up sings to protest the federal government shutdown during a non-partisan rally at Independence Mall, in Philadelphia, Pa., on Jan. 8, 2019. (Photo: Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Photo: Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Nearly 800,000 workers have been off the federal payroll since the government shutdown began at midnight on Dec. 22, with about half of them still working. Employees deemed essential are being required to work without pay while others have been sent home. While some agencies allow employees to work contract jobs, they require approval from management, a problem because many supervisors are also furloughed and unable to process requests.

Workers have received their last pay checks, for the middle two weeks of December before the shutdown began, and are now entering the period where they will start missing pay dates. Four out of 10 Americans have less than $400 in the bank to cover emergencies.

While most workers received back pay after previous shutdowns, there’s no guarantee that will be the case this time around. Some contract workers, including janitors, security guards and administrative staff, won’t receive back pay at all. Congress has to pass — and the president has to sign — legislation that specifically authorizes the government to pay federal employees for the time they were on furlough.

Officials of unions representing federal workers are concerned about receiving makeup pay, citing President Trump’s recent decision to stop scheduled salary raises via executive order. As an unintended consequence of the shutdown, a pay freeze for top administration officials that had been in effect since 2013 expired — meaning that Cabinet officers, deputies and other top administrators will receive raises of around $10,000.

Some residents of government housing may lose their homes and 38 million people on food stamps could be affected if the shutdown is prolonged. Hundreds of TSA screeners at major airports are calling out sick leaving long lines, while national parks and the Smithsonian Museums have closed due to lack of funding.