Shut out by Trump’s shutdown
A federal worker and member of AFGE has some thoughts to share with Donald Trump about the shutdown that the Racist-in-Chief is causing with his border-wall blackmail.
THE PARTIAL government shutdown that began December 22 is now in its third week, and unless an agreement is struck fast, 800,000 out of 2.1 million federal workers won’t be getting paid this Friday.
As everyone knows, the shutdown began after Trump signaled he would veto a December House of Representatives funding proposal that didn’t include $5.6 billion for a 200-mile section of border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
As a result of the racist standoff, approximately 380,000 federal workers have been furloughed, without pay, leaving greatly reduced staffs at the Department of Commerce, NASA, National Park Service, Forest Service, Department of Transportation, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Another 420,000 workers — including National Weather Service forecasters, Forest Service firefighters, Transportation Security Administration employees, as well as law enforcement and prison, and Border Patrol employees — are deemed to be essential and will therefore be forced to work without pay.
On Thursday, federal workers will have a chance to show that they’re tired of being used as pawns over Trump’s racist wall — at a noontime “Rally to End the Government Shutdown” in Washington, D.C., called by the AFL-CIO.
FEDERAL WORKERS were paid in late December, but a paycheck on January 11 looks less and less likely.
As American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) President J. David Cox Sr. said in a statement last month: “Our members take home an average of around $500 each week. Any interruption in their pay will have a devastating impact on them, their families, and their communities.”
In Ogden, Utah, IRS employee Krystle Kirkpatrick told the Washington Post that she was thinking about selling her blood plasma for about $200 per month.
Kirkpatrick’s co-workers, such as Sophia Lopez, are turning to local food banks, which are waiving income limits to allow furloughed federal workers to get food.
Ryan Baugh, who works at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told a Post reporter that federal employees were preparing to sign up for unemployment benefits.
Baugh was part of a group of mainly furloughed federal employees who went to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. — which is cared for by some of the 16,000 National Park Service employees on furlough — to voluntarily pick up litter. Baugh said that he was helping out “to make sure that all the litter on the National Mall doesn’t get into D.C.’s drinking water.”
The shutdown doesn’t just affect federal employees. The 2.1 million federal civilian employees share workplaces with millions more contracted workers who often fill low-wage jobs.
Pablo Lazaro told a reporter that he was laid off by the government contracting firm Restaurant Associates, beginning January 2. RA gave Lazaro and his co-workers letters explaining they should apply for unemployment benefits or use accrued vacation or sick to cover future paychecks.
Lazaro, a cook, has been a contracted federal worker for 17 years, the past three of them in the cafeteria at the National Museum of the American Indian. In order to make ends meet, Lazaro also works a part-time cooking job at Ronald Reagan National Airport.
A long shutdown will force Lazaro and thousands like him to seek other jobs. He supports his family of four on his one-and-a-half paychecks, and rent accounts for a staggering 60 to 70 percent of his pay.
“I don’t think our government realizes that the people most affected by this shutdown are like myself, people who are low-income earners,” Lazaro told the Post. “Especially among the Latino community, which is heavily affected here.”
THE ANNOUNCEMENT of the shutdown came last month in what has become standard “White House whiplash” style.
On Wednesday, December 19, news reports were full of talk that Trump was looking for a way to avoid a shutdown that he had boasted the week before he would be “proud” to carry out. We were all surprised to get e-mails at work that day explaining that Trump had declared Christmas Eve an unscheduled federal holiday with pay.
But by the end of the day on Friday, that had all changed for the third time in a week, and federal employees faced a bleak holiday season.
The shutdown that weekend apparently came as a surprise to various parts of Trump’s own administration as well, including the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
One responsibility of OPM is to alert federal workers about the government’s operating status, especially in the case of weather- or funding-related shutdowns. If Washington, D.C., gets one-tenth of an inch of snow, OPM is quick to change its operating status app from green to yellow or even red.
However, the app continued to show green on December 22 and 23 — as if federal workers were supposed to come in to work. Only on the 24th did OPM get caught up with Trump’s changing whims, and change the operating status to yellow.
And how did OPM respond to the needs of furloughed workers during the shutdown? By providing a “sample letter” that broke federal employees can present to their landlords and creditors, begging to work out a payment plan!
Trump clearly thinks will be a workable approach. At a recent press conference, Trump speculated that that landlords would “work with” furloughed workers, according to the Post, that he would encourage landlords to “be nice and easy” on tenants.
I wonder how slumlord Trump would react if he received such a letter?
IF YOU think Trump’s rent comment is the stuff of fantasy, wait until you read what he had to say to federal workers who won’t be getting paid on January 11: “This really does have a higher purpose than next week’s pay. And the people that won’t get next week’s pay or the following week’s pay, I think if you ever really looked at those people, I think they’d say: Mr. President, keep going. This is far more important.”
Trump may believe he has the support of federal workers, but that’s likely because he only talks to the ones who support his agenda, such as Border Patrol agents and ICE agents. When we talk over lunch in my workplace, we all know this shutdown is all about Trump’s racist wall, and there is not one voice raised in support.
And to top it off, Trump had the gall to tell us we can do without a few paychecks the same week that he signed an executive order stopping our 2.1 percent annual pay raise, which he called “inappropriate.” Even Congressional Republicans had agreed to raise our pay.
Long before the raises and paychecks stop coming, our workplaces have already been impacted by shutdown threats.
The union I belong to — the American Federation of Government Employees, representing more than 700,000 federal workers — surveyed its members before the shutdown and found:
86.2 percent say they had not been given direction on what to do during a shutdown;
86.1 percent say the lead-up to a government shutdown affects their ability to plan or fulfill their work duties or interrupts aspects of their personal and family life;
79.4 percent say their ability to do their work as normal is impacted when the government is about to run out of money;
78.4 percent say they have been impacted by a government shutdown during their careers;
68.7 percent say their finances have been negatively impacted by a shutdown.
This level of workplace uncertainty takes a toll. Job satisfaction dropped at 60 percent of federal agencies in 2018, according to one survey, and you can bet that “White House whiplash” was a major cause.
Now furloughed workers need have to face a new uncertainty: how to make ends meet without a paycheck.
THE RACIST-in-Chief’s recent comments have shown nothing but contempt for me and my federal co-workers, as well as federal contract workers like Pablo Lazaro.
We have a message for Trump: Federal workers don’t feel safer with your racist wall. Nor will we look on with pride over our empty tables as you stick to your demand for $5 billion for that wall.
AFGE has taken legal against the shutdown. On New Year’s Eve, it filed a lawsuit against the government for forcing “essential” federal employees to work without pay.
While the lawsuit is a start, it unfortunately leaves “non-essential” employees passive spectators.
Fortunately, the AFL-CIO has reportedly called for a Rally to End the Government Shutdown on Thursday, the day before we go without our paychecks. It will take place at 12 noon at AFL-CIO headquarters at 815 16th St. NW.
AFGE could build on this, before Thursday or after, with calls for workplace rallies at every shuttered federal facility, asking furloughed and working feds to tell their shutdown stories, show solidarity across the government and demand to be put back to work, with full pay.
It’s time we organize to stop this shutdown now and bring federal workers back to work.