Labor rally demands an end to the Trump shutdown/lockout
AFL-CIO Facebook page

WASHINGTON—Labor and allied groups injected into the 2019 Women’s March here a major component demanding an end to the Trump government shutdown which, unions say, amounts to a lockout of 800,000 plus workers.

And that’s a lockout that disproportionately harms working women. Some 43 percent of federal workers are women, and 42 percent of that group are minority-group members. But it’s not just the federal workers who are hurting.

Trump’s lockout has also forced contract workers into unemployment. Those are the cleaners who toil in federal buildings after hours, the security guards who check people in at the front door, the fast-food workers in malls inside federal buildings – including a huge mall at the Pentagon – and even teachers at daycare centers inside federal structures.

They’re all not getting paid. And after prior shutdowns ended, they are the workers who were never repaid.

The AFL-CIO cited these workers, too, in its pre-march rally inside its building in downtown D.C. The labor federation massed more than 1,000 people on Jan. 19. After their own rally, attendees paraded past the White House to Freedom Plaza several blocks away for the larger march, which drew at least 100,000 people.

“We’re here to stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers who are locked out during this unnecessary government shutdown/lockout,” the AFL-CIO’s leading speaker, Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, told the crowd.

“Four hundred and twenty thousand are being forced to report to work with no pay,” she said of “essential” workers. “Isn’t that illegal? Didn’t we pass the 13th Amendment (to the U.S. Constitution) to abolish slavery?”

One speaker, Elise Bryant, president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, had two even more radical ideas than just ending the lockout.

As director of both the Labor Heritage Foundation and the D.C. Labor Chorus, she led the group in a new song: “All for one, one for all. Stop the shutdown, stop the wall!” – Trump’s Mexican Wall – before proposing a general strike, just like the one on the West Coast a century ago. And then, she said “Impeach the mofo!” – a theme of many signs at the larger women’s march.

Air Traffic Controllers (NATCA) Vice President Trish Gilbert spoke for unpaid workers Trump still has forced to toil. “I’m an air traffic controller. We’re reporting to work every single day, and we can’t strike” by law, she said. “But we come to work so that 12 million other people” – pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, other airline workers, and airport workers, too – “can go to work.”

Workers also worry Trump could use his lockout to set a precedent. Data compiled for the Boston Globe last year show private employer lockouts are now twice as likely as workers being forced to strike. Lockouts are now used in more than 10 percent of all contract negotiations. “If they (Trump) can do that to them, they can do it to us” at the Postal Service, said Liz Powell, Postal Workers Secretary-Treasurer.

The unionists at the rally demanded that Trump end the lockout and that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., “stop playing politics with our lives” and let lawmakers vote on House-passed bills to fund the closed agencies. The bills don’t include Trump’s Mexican Wall, which many foes call racist and which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls “immoral.”

McConnell refuses. Instead, he plans to bring up Trump’s scheme to reopen the agencies, fund his Mexican Wall for $5.7 billion, and give a three-year reprieve to the 700,000-800,000 young people – average age now 24 – under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Trump really wants to throw all DACA recipients, brought to the U.S. as undocumented youngsters, out of the country. The Senate is expected to vote that Trump demand down. McConnell needs 60 votes to pass it but has only 53 Republicans. Democrats and both independents are expected to vote “no.”

The Trump lockout, aided and abetted by McConnell and GOP pro-Trumpites, has other ripple effects. For example, National Nurses United Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN, told the AFL-CIO crowd RNs are seeing higher numbers of federal workers and their families who can’t afford care.

“This administration has no conscience about the pain it causes from using human beings as pawns, or as an experiment. This is a large-scale attack on our families, who are being used as political bargaining chips – while being unable to feed themselves and their children or fill their prescriptions,” Castillo said.

And Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is urging one of the shuttered agencies, the Food and Drug Administration, to bring enough workers back in to ensure anti-shingles vaccine, which also forestalls chicken pox, is distributed. It’s already run short in the Albany area, he said. The biggest pharmacy chain there, CVS, is out.

He’s also cosponsoring legislation, introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, to ban landlords from evicting unpaid federal workers and their families and to ban car loan providers from repossessing vehicles.

“The shingle shot shortage across upstate New York is a two-pronged worry because not only does a shortage mean more people might suffer the painful and harmful shingles virus itself, but it means young people, particularly babies and children, even those with compromised immune systems who have never had chickenpox, are at a greater risk to communicate the bug,” Schumer said.


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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