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Federal Workers Nationwide Protest Government Shutdown | The Nation

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Allison Kilkenny

Allison Kilkenny

Budget wars, activism, uprising, dissent and general rabble-rousing.

Federal Workers Nationwide Protest Government Shutdown

The US Capitol is photographed through a chain fence in Washington, DC, on September 30, 2013 (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque).

The US government shut down at midnight as the Republican-controlled House continued to demand changes to Obamacare, and in response workers all across the country are protesting the GOP’s actions.

Nearly 100 government employees rallied in downtown Chicago at Federal Plaza on Monday to protest the shutdown, the first in seventeen years, calling Congress’ actions, “political theater of the absurd.”

Fox Chicago reports workers carried signs reading: “Jobs Not Furloughs.”

When asked about the impact of a shutdown, a spokesperson for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office responded vaguely: “I think we all know what that looks like.”

The Chicago Tribune offered some more specifics: “The early prevailing wisdom is that the Chicago area should be able to weather a short-term shutdown largely unscathed but that the impact will become more apparent the longer federal funding is suspended.”

And the Sun-Times reports that if employees considered “non-essential to national health safety and security” are furloughed, it will be “more difficult or impossible” to get a passport, a gun permit, or a new Social Security card.

Chris Black, who workers for the EPA, told CBS that a shutdown would do more than just furlough workers. A shutdown will also affect the jobs they do.

“I’m involved in ongoing cleanups at different hazardous waste sites. They’re long-term cleanup projects and they’re going to be delayed,” said Black.

“We won’t have people inspecting wastewater treatment plants or sewage treatment plants, drinking water plants. We won’t have people out there checking the water quality,” John O’Grady, AFGE Local 704, said.

“It’s going to cost millions of dollars to shut the government down nationwide and then it’s going to cost millions of dollars to get the government up and running,” O’Grady said to ABC.

The shutdown might also disrupt the federal investigators at Monday’s CTA crash that injured forty-eight people.

ABC: “As of midnight tonight—if the government shuts down—they’ll be required to gather the evidence they have, the perishable evidence and fly back to Washington,” said Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois).

“We have dedicated public servants here. They’re basically being used as guinea pigs,” said Mike Mikulka, an environmental engineer and a vice president of the union, to the Sun-Times. “Lawmakers had all summer to do their job and fund the government.”

Mikulka added that with the shutdown looming, he was ordered not to travel to northern Wisconsin to supervise cleanup of an arsenic-laced site. As a result, the work will be delayed, he said.

Sun-Times: “Capt. Dustin Cammack, a public affairs officer for the Illinois National Guard, said about 1,200 employees of the Guard are subject to furlough, most of them military technicians at the bases, the Springfield headquarters or an aviation facility at Midway Airport. The Guard has 10,500 people working in Illinois, he said.”

Brent Barron, president of the union’s Local 648 and a workers’ compensation claims examiner with the US Department of Labor, told the Sun-Times that he falls into a category of workers who would be expected to report but might not get paid. Furthermore, Labor Department aids who compute the unemployment numbers will themselves be jobless, and a long shutdown could affect unemployment compensation checks, which are sent out by states, but involve federal money.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents federal employees in the St. Louis region, will hold an informational picket Tuesday morning to protest the government shutdown.

“We need Congress to do what they were elected to do and pass a budget that allows the federal government to function,” AFGE Local 3354 President Steven Hollis, said in a statement.

According to a statement from the union, under a shutdown, federal employees will be furloughed without pay while contractors who operate outside federal facilities will continue to be paid for their work, a practice the union calls a “double standard” that is “outrageous.”

A similar coalition protested at the Tip O’Neill federal building in Boston on Monday.

Karen Carson, a wheelchair-bound activist, told Boston Magazine that a government shutdown could result in her losing disability checks, missing her rent payment, and not collecting the food stamps she needs in order to survive.

“I have $70 left in my checking account,” she said, sitting alongside protesters on Merimac Street in Boston on Monday, where close to 100 people gathered on the steps of the Massachusetts Republican Party headquarters to protest a possible government shutdown. “I’m fearful of this happening. If federal payments don’t go through, I won’t be able to afford my rent tomorrow.

Another demonstration took place last week as the American Foreign Service Workers Association held a rally on Friday titled, “Don’t Shut Down Diplomacy” in Washington, DC, The Washington Post reports.

“Thousands of Foreign Service employees—diplomats and development experts—will be kept from their posts [in the event of a shutdown],” AFSA president Bob Silverman said in a statement. “In this time of continuing instability in the Middle East and uncertainty around the world, we appeal to members of Congress to allow these men and women to continue doing their jobs.”

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The Oregon Air National Guard base is already feeling the impact of the shutdown. Guard members are still being asked to show up this week for “further guidance,” but there remains the question of whether they’ll be paid.

KOIN:

Critical services—such as the fighter jets and guard fire fighters—will stay online. The government stresses public safety is priority No. 1.

But there will be fewer training flights at the Portland, Ore., base. And the guard’s Starbase program, which teaches advance math and science to Portland school students, has already been cancelled for the week. One of the teachers in the Starbase program, who also works for the airfighter wing, is one who would be furloughed in the event of a federal shut-down.

Amanda Schroder, who represents local federal employees, is organizing a Portland rally Tuesday that is being coordinated through the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2157.

In the midst of these protests, KOIN >notes, Congresspersons will still take home their paychecks of $174,000 a year.

Zoe Carpenter wrote about who would be hurt most from a prolonged government shutdown.

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