Federal workers fear Trump could rerun shutdown/lockout
Despite the bi partisan compromise Trump has not yet committed to signing legislation that will keep the government open. Trump speaks during a rally at the El Paso County Coliseum, Feb. 11, in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

WASHINGTON —Despite apparent congressional agreement to keep the federal government – all of the federal government – going through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, workers locked out of their jobs for 35 days by GOP President Donald Trump, along with those he worked to toil without pay, fear he could lock them out again.

And that’s sent the workers, led by the Government Employees (AFGE) to Capitol Hill to rally – and lobby their lawmakers – on Feb. 13, two days before the latest shutdown deadline.

Egged on by right-wing worker haters among both GOP lawmakers and his White House aides, Trump gleefully shut down nine Cabinet departments and dozens of other agencies at midnight on Dec. 21. The price for reopening: Congressional kowtowing to his demand for $5.7 billion to build his Mexican Wall, which foes call both racist and ineffective.

The Democratic-run House forced him to back down and reopen the government agencies – after disruptions of vital services, notably airplane flights – without his wall. And the bargainers now have reportedly agreed to $1.4 billion for “enhanced border security,” including 55 miles of steel wall along a Texas portion of a 2,000-mile border.

But Trump has yet to sign off on the deal, and backed out of a prior agreement on funding, virtually identical to the latest deal, in December. “Am I happy at first glance? The answer is ‘no,’” he said. That worries the workers, several told a press call-in days before.

“We sincerely hope for bipartisan unity” and presidential agreement “to avoid another disastrous shutdown,” AFGE President J. David Cox said then. His union, the largest among federal workers, coincidentally held its legislative conference Feb. 10-13. Cox’s colleagues were more pessimistic.

“The financial hardships are still there” when her colleagues “don’t get a paycheck,” said Freda Cox, president AFGE Local 4060, which represents Federal Emergency Management Agency workers nationwide. “If the shutdown returns, the (workers’) lines to food banks will return. And if we don’t get paid and can’t work” – Trump locked out FEMA headquarters and support staff – “the American public will be hurt,” especially in hurricane season, she warned.

“What do we ask in return for our sacrifice? Just our pay,” said Eric Young, president of AFGE’s Council of Prison Locals, which represents 33,000 federal correctional officers. “We want people to hold true to their promises and not hold our pay and pensions for ransom.”

While Trump’s looming potential shutdown/lockout was the top cause that led AFGE conference delegates to Capitol Hill on Feb. 13, it wasn’t the only one. Congress just approved a 2.6 percent pay raise for civilian federal workers, retroactive to Jan. 1. Trump, who froze their pay at zero, has yet to sign it. AFGE, citing past pay cuts and freezes, wants to up that to 3.6 percent to start a “catch-up.” The workers also want solons to permanently override Trump’s anti-federal worker executive orders. A federal judge in D.C. tossed them in August.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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