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Many Government Workers Are Expected to Work for Free During the Shutdown | The Nation

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Allison Kilkenny

Allison Kilkenny

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

Many Government Workers Are Expected to Work for Free During the Shutdown

A federal worker posts a sign a turning away potential park-goers. (AP)

Seven days after the government shutdown began, workers nationwide continue to protest missing out on paychecks.

In Houston, workers staged a protest outside the VA Hospital to say lawmakers are putting politics above the well-being of workers and their families.

Fernando Grajales, a government worker who represents the local chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees, was protesting alongside workers from NASA and TSA, among other government agencies.

“We’re asking people to call their congressmen and tell them to do what they are paid to do,” Grajales said to ABC.

While many workers have been told not to come to work, others are expected to labor without compensations, such as TSA screener Mike Sanders.

“We’re still having to work, but we’re not going to get any pay,” Sanders said to ABC. “We’re not getting paid.”

Working without compensation is a reality for many government employees, including the Capitol Police, who were on duty when Miriam Carey led officers on a car chase originating at the White House before fatally shooting her outside the US Capitol.

“We’re protesting against the shutdown, to Congress to do their job,” NASA employee Bridget Broussard-Guidry said to ABC. “If we didn’t do our job, we would be fired.”

ABC reports that federal workers might receive retroactive pay once the government reopens, but many workers say this fails to address the bigger issue: “Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, independent, you cannot be happy with what’s going on in Washington,” veteran Kenneth Aitken said.

Clifton Buchanan, who works at the prison in downtown Houston, says the shutdown has him working for free.

“It affects us because we’re required, as law enforcement officers, to come to work even though we will not be getting paid,” he said to Newsfix. “It just doesn’t make sense that we’re having to go without pay and many of us will get behind and will not be able to fill our financial obligations.”

On Friday, several hundred workers gathered on Capitol Hill for a rally organized by federal worker labor unions and democratic lawmakers.

WJLA:

With no end to the shutdown in sight, federal workers with the National Treasury Employees Union and other labor groups demanded a vote on a “clean” continuing resolution in the House, as well as back-pay.

NIH researcher Tyrone Wilson said, “I know a lot of people in a lot worse shape than I am [with] mortgages, kids in college, living from paycheck to paycheck.”

Department of Labor employee Lucia Cruz said, “That’s my rent money. And then where’s my grocery money? My student loans—I have to apply for deferments now. I have to look into taking money out of my retirement, my 401k so I can float on. It’s ridiculous.”

The furlough follows a three-year pay freeze for Department of Labor employees.

“We love serving the public. It’s just really hurtful that we’re always taking the blame,” said Cruz to WJLA.

While prison workers, Capitol Police and TSA workers have to do without paychecks for the time being, the Pentagon last week ordered most of its approximately 400,000 furloughed civilian employees back to work.

Many workers, who previously believed working for the federal government was supposed to be stable work, now feel jilted by being furloughed.

Steve Hopkins, an Environmental Protection Agency employee for 25 years, told The Huffington Post:

We went through a furlough, a very long term of uncertainty. You’re not even recovered from that and you’re coming into another era of uncertainty [with the shutdown]. And that promises to be followed by another era of uncertainty with the debt ceiling. You brought me here to do a job—if you want it done, let’s do it. If you don’t want it done, say so and send us home.

In North Carolina, veterans and federal workers spent hours protesting the government shutdown last week.

Members of the American Federation of Government Employees Union and veterans stood across the street from the veteran’s hospital protesting the shutdown, WSOC-TV reports.

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Local Union President Essie Hogue said, “We want to work and we’re being told we can’t work and we’re being used as pawns between Congress. They need to do what they were elected to do go to work and pass a budget.”

While the shutdown won’t affect funding for VA hospitals, some Veteran’s Affairs workers face furloughs, and if the shutdown lasts at least a month, funding for disability and pension checks will run out by the end of October.

Army veteran Curtis Jennings told WSOC-TV he and his service dog Dorothy will be evicted form his apartment next month if he doesn’t get his check.

“They’re pretty much making us feel like pawns for their political party, and making us into what they want us to be instead of what we are: humans just trying to get by,” Jennings said.

 

Greg Kaufmann detailed the ways that the government shutdown exacerbates poverty in his latest blog post. 

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