On Jan. 10, the 20th of day of federal government shutdown, employees gathered outside the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C. and in cities across the country to issue a message to Congress and the White House: Do your job so we can do ours.
|Civic and Community Engagement Department Director Tarn Goelling joined other IBEW staff and members to urge Congress and the White House to reopen the government.
“We’re tired of being pawns, and we’re not going to take it – and we’re going to remember,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka to the gathered crowd that included federal employees, politicians and union leaders.
The partial government shutdown, as of Friday, Jan. 11, tied for longest in U.S. history. And with negotiations between the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, the Republican-controlled Senate and the White House stalled, there is no end in sight.
“Brothers and sisters, they were elected to do a job and by damn, they need to do it,” American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox implored from the podium, initiating chants of “Do your job” from the crowd. “Let there be a vote in the Senate!”
AFGE, along with the National Employees Treasury Union, have sued the government for forcing its employees to work without pay.
Hundreds of thousands of federal employees, working for Customs and Border Patrol, the National Park Service, the Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Weather Service, federal prisons and more, are either working without pay or not allowed to work. All of them on Jan. 11 missed their first paycheck of the year.
“Our members, like our brothers and sisters across the country who do the vital work of making our country run and keeping us safe, should not be held hostage by political antics,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “Everyone deserves to be paid for their work, and federal employees are no different.”
Some will eventually get backpay, but for many others – particularly contract workers – they’re simply missing out. And many, like the vast majority of Americans, live paycheck to paycheck.
The Twitter hashtag #shutdownstories has become a repository of the myriad ways in which working families across the country are bearing the brunt of the impasse on Washington. Some are going without, forgoing mortgage payments, student loan payments and more. Some are selling items on sites like Craiglist. Some are deciding between filling prescriptions and paying bills. The crowdfunding site GoFundMe currently has over 1,000 pages related to the government shutdown.
National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Pellerito, who spoke at the rally, said he knows one person who can’t file his retirement paperwork, a story echoed by a National Park Service employee also at the rally. Pellerito said another worker just relocated to the Midwest to start a new job, incurring all the moving expenses, only to be put on hold until the government reopens.
“He can’t report to work because of the shutdown. He can’t even work without pay,” said Pellerito, who also serves as the steward for his Binghamton, N.Y., bargaining unit for the NWS Employee Union.
Rally attendees Stephen Nofield and Stephen Morris work at the National Park Service headquarters and noted that the federal government is going through a large number of retirements. In addition to enduring years of hiring freezes, the shutdown is doing nothing to alleviate the need to bring new people in.
“It used to be one of the main reasons people wanted government jobs was because they’re so secure. But now, I think this administration is degrading the federal government,” Morris said.
The Trump administration may not be doing anything to support federal workers, but Pellerito said that while he’s seen the “collateral damage” of the shutdown on his co-workers, he’s also witnessing the resolve.
“We’re all in it together, and we’re a close-knit group; we watch out for each other,” he said. ‘We’re always motivated by the ultimate mission, which is serving our country and putting out the best forecasts available. This is our passion, this is what we’ve always wanted to do, and that hasn’t changed.”
Dr. Amanda Weimer works at the National Archives on Freedom of Information Act Requests. She noted that with people like her unable to work, servicemen and women cannot access their military records, which means veterans cannot file for their benefits. According to the Office of Personnel Management, approximately one-third of the federal workforce are veterans.
Weimer, who said one of her relatives is an IBEW member, noted the benefits of organized labor during the shutdown.
“We’re hoping to stay strong, together, and organized labor is a good way to do that.”
The IBEW represents thousands of federal government workers at shipyards, national laboratories, the Government Printing Office and more.