Local federal workers rally before Trump announces deal on ending shutdown

Originally published by The Philadelphia Tribune on January 25, 2019

La-Shanda Palmer has missed two paychecks due to the partial government shutdown and worries every day how she’ll get to work.

The mother of five children and lead transportation security officer at Philadelphia International Airport called out of work for a few days because she didn’t have gas in her car.

As vice president of the federal union local representing employees at the airport, Palmer predicted the airport might soon soon an uptick in call-outs if the shutdown continued.

“Because we don’t have any cash,” she said. “We give to Philabundance, we give to different charities, we give to the Red Cross, and now we’re on the receiving end.”

Palmer shared how she’s surviving her third government shutdown alongside congressional officials, federal employees and supporters during a rally calling for an end to the shutdown at the airport Friday.

“This is not a safe situation,” U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-3, told more than 100 people gathered at the rally at Terminal B. “So we are beyond, in my view, a tipping point.”

The rally, organized by AFGE District 3, was held hours before President Donald Trump announced he and Congress had reached a deal to end the partial government shutdown until Feb. 15. Trump said federal employees will receive back pay as soon as possible.

That same morning, Federal Aviation Administration issued air traffic delays for the Philadelphia airport, as well as LaGuardia Airport in New York and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey due to an increased number of employees calling out sick at two regional air traffic control centers.

Federal workers, including the Transportation Security Administration and FAA employees, are prohibited from going on strike. They have been working without pay since the shutdown began on Dec. 22.

Diane Gerace, a spokeswoman at the Philadelphia airport, said in an email that the issue at the two facilities did result in some flights at the airport being delayed. Around 2 p.m. Gerace said the airport was not experiencing delays tied to that issue.

The rally at the Philadelphia airport brought together not only Democratic officials — U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-PA; U.S. Reps. Brendan Boyle, D-2; Chrissy Houlahan, D-6; and Evans — but Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, who represents District 1.

When asked about whether there was support for federal employees to buck the law and go on strike, Evans said, “we should not handle things that way.”

“Those of us in Washington need to do our job and pass a budget,” Evans added.

“We’re not going to play with that word,” said Phil Glover, national vice president of AFGE District 3, referring to a strike.

But he noted that if congressional leaders would amend the law to allow strikes by federal workers, he would consider using it in the future.

“If Congress changes the statute and I’m a labor leader and that’s one of my resorts, I’m going to use it,” Glover said. “But right now, our resort is to get the public aware to understand that security is becoming a problem.”

Boyle called on this shutdown, which reached Day 35 Friday, to be the last. He has introduced legislation to ban government shutdowns by requiring current funding levels to be maintained on a 90-day basis when an appropriations agreement cannot be reached.

“That’s it and everyone gets paid and we take away the possibility, and I would say the future likelihood, of ever having to go through this disgrace again,” Boyle said.

Tyrone Covington, an officer with the Federal Bureau of Prisons in New York City and AFGE national vice president for Women and Fair Practices, said the shutdown was making federal workers desperate.

In addition Covington said that in some facilities officers in the bureau experienced the added pressure of being ridiculed by inmates because of not being paid — during a time when inmates themselves continued to receive payments for the labor they completed through federal work programs.

“It’s very stressful,” he said. “It’s depressing.”