Workers scramble to pay bills as Trump shutdown drags on
Working without pay: A TSA worker works at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on Christmas Day. The National Treasury Employees Union says some federal government employees already are feeling the effects of the partial government shutdown. Of the roughly 800,000 federal employees facing deferred pay, more than half were deemed essential, such as U.S. Secret Service agents and Transportation Security Administration airport agents. | Nam Y. Huh / AP

WASHINGTON (PAI)—With hundreds of thousands of locked-out federal workers scrambling to pay their bills, their union leaders are urging lawmakers to override President Donald Trump’s partial government shutdown and put the employees back to work.

But their pleas appear to have fallen on deaf ears, so far, both at the White House and on Capitol Hill. Both lawmakers and staffers say that even though they returned Dec. 26 to try to deal with the mess. The expectation now: No solution until next year—but when?

“From the looks of things, it ain’t going well” in talks between Congress and the White House, said one of the affected unions, the National Federation of Federal Employees/IAM.

Trump shut down approximately one-third of the federal government, including almost all of the Environmental Protection Agency and large chunks of other departments, because Congress refuses to genuflect to his demand for $5 billion for his Mexican Wall at the U.S.’s southern border—a wall Congress doesn’t want.

“Just in case anyone still thinks a partial shutdown over a holiday weekend is harmless, think again,” Treasury Employees (NTEU) President Tony Reardon said before the shutdown stretched on after the break.

“Your friends and neighbors around the country who work for the federal government are already showing signs of financial stress.”

“I may have to return gifts in order to pay bills and expenses and it is putting a strain on my household,” one worker responded during an NTEU survey of 1,600 laid off employees. “We cannot survive without paychecks,” a second worker wrote.

“We continue to serve our country despite all the political discord. It is unjust to expect CBP (Customs and Border Protection) officers to continue to work and risk our lives every day while politicians juggle with our financial future,” a third added.

We need to call the White House at 202-456-1414 and tell President Trump to work with Congress to fully fund the government today!” the Government Employees urged its members. We also need to call Congress. You can call the congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121…Tell them to fully fund the government today! (emphasis theirs).”

“Maybe his heart is two sizes too small. Why else would President Trump be ‘proud’ to shut down the government and send federal workers home without pay this Christmas? #TrumpWhoStoleChristmas,” the union tweeted.

Other unions and leaders, including Presidents Paul Rinaldi of the Air Traffic Controllers (NATCA), Paul Shearon of the Professional and Technical Employees (IFPTE), and J. David Cox of the Government Employees (AFGE), as well as the Teamsters and NFFE/IAM, issued similar demands.

NTEU, the second-largest federal employee union, represents most of the 800,000 workers Trump locked out without pay, including those whom agencies deemed “essential.” They had to report to their jobs and will work unpaid. Congress is supposed to make up the pay if and when the affected agencies are funded, but NFFE warned that might not occur.

The shut-down workers are in the State, Justice, Commerce, Interior, and Agriculture Departments, plus other departments and agencies such as the Customs Service, and immigration judges. Almost half of the 800,000 were called in to work without pay.

“The partial shutdown may extend past next week as the White House digs its heels in on its request for a border wall,” NFFE added. “The only good news to come out of this fiasco is the Senate passed a bill to allow back pay for feds who are furloughed.

“Unfortunately, the House Freedom Caucus is running the show, headed by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who largely shrugged off the effects of shutdowns on federal employees and their families in the press last week, so the bill’s success is not guaranteed. NFFE is continuing to work with House lawmakers to get the backpay bill passed separately from any funding negotiations,” it added. [The House Freedom Caucus was formed in 2015 with the declared aim of pushing the House GOP leadership rightward on fiscal and social issues. It includes many veterans of the Tea Party movement.]

“If the president wants to gamble, perhaps he should go back to running casinos. A casino is where it’s commonplace for chips to be tossed around. Gambling with the lives of federal workers is not acceptable,” IFPTE’s Shearon said.

“The air traffic controllers and traffic management coordinators NATCA represents remain on the job, dedicated to the safety of every flight, but they don’t know when they will receive their next paycheck,” Rinaldi said.

“This shutdown, whether it lasts one hour, one day, one week, or more, reinforces our strong belief the status quo is broken. When these aviation safety professionals are prohibited from working as a result of political dysfunction, the flying public and the national airspace system suffer.”

“Air traffic control is very much a team effort, and the worst part of a shutdown, beyond furloughs and an uncertain date of their next paycheck, is the fact that many key members of the team are sent home. That hurts the operation.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.