Federal employees rally, demand end to shutdown holding pay ‘hostage’

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As furloughed and excepted federal employees working without pay are set to miss their first scheduled paycheck of 2019 this Friday, hundreds showed up on a cold and windy Thursday to demand an end to the partial government shutdown.

The impact of the government shutdown, now closing in on 20-days long, is setting in for furloughed and excepted employees, some of whom traveled to Washington, D.C. to rally outside the AFL-CIO headquarters to make their frustrations known.

“We want to go back to work,” said Teresa Mulligan, an IRS customer service representative. “It’s very stressful not knowing from one day to the next when you’re going to be working and when you’re going to be paid.”

Mulligan and her colleague, Viola Harris-Danzuy, traveled on one of two buses full of National Treasury Employee Union members from Philadelphia to join Thursday’s rally.

Paychecks are due Jan. 11. But those paychecks won’t come, and they’ll be delayed indefinitely until Congress passes some sort of legislation to reopen all of government.

“How much longer is this going to continue?” Harris-Danzuy said. “What else can I say, you can’t survive without a paycheck.”

Mulligan said she’s found guidance and recommendations from her agency and the Office of Personnel Management “short-sighted” and “foolish.”

“Maybe I should go to my bank loan officer and tell them I can’t pay the mortgage for February, and maybe I can do some painting to cover the cost of the mortgage, since that’s been recommended,” she joked.

Jamie Rodney, a federal investigator at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, traveled from California to tell her story on stage at Thursday’s rally.

“Stop this shutdown now,” she said. “Stop holding 800,000 federal employees and their families hostage. End this shutdown now. We are middle class Americans and cannot afford — as President Trump said — wait for as long as it takes to wait for our next paychecks.”

As the crowd chanted, “We want to work,” and “We want our pay,” some members of Congress — all of them Democrats — encouraged employees at the rally to make their frustrations heard.

Francis Nichols is working without pay at the federal Pretrial Services Agency. When Friday’s paycheck isn’t there, Nichols said he’ll have to tap into his savings and ask family for help to cover family and medication expenses, as well as gas and parking fees to get to work.

“Being a 35-year-old federal government employee for the last 12 years and [having] to go to family and friends to ask them for help is heartbreaking,” he said.

Besides the missed paychecks, morale is low for many, especially excepted federal employees working without pay.

“[We’re] asking each other to share food or to cook and [have] everybody share or chip in,” Nichols said. “We really have to stick together in these tough times. When President Trump said we adjust and he can relate, you can’t relate to what we’re going through right now.”

Chris Berry is a retired federal employee but still serves as the secretary-treasurer of National Federation of Federal Employees’ Forest Service Council. He said it’s been “almost impossible” to keep morale up for his members.

While many of Berry’s members are excepted and fighting fires without pay, others are furloughed.

“We also have a large arm that does research, and a lot of that research just stops dead,” he said. “Many of those research experiments might die during this period and [will] have to be restarted. A lot of the work on the land continues during the winter, [like] prep work for sales. None of that gets done. When we start back up, we’re restarting so many different things, and it’s really frustrating to have to redo what you what you’ve done.”

Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who have been particularly vocal during the government shutdown, showed their support at Thursday’s rally. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) also attended.

Several federal unions, including the American Federation of Government Employees, National Treasury Employees Union, National Federation of Federal Employees and many others, organized Thursday’s rally.

Senate passes back pay legislation

The Senate Thursday afternoon unanimously passed legislation guaranteeing federal employees receive back pay during this government shutdown and future ones.

The Government Employee Fair Treatment Act passed with a voice vote. The legislation also encourages payroll providers to send out employees’ paychecks as soon as the government reopens, regardless of the next pay period scheduled.

The House has passed similar legislation but in a different format. It included retroactive pay for federal employees in the financial services and general government bill, which passed the House Wednesday. It also included the provision in the package of six appropriations bills that cleared the House last week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he won’t consider the House appropriations bills. The President, will, however sign standalone back pay legislation.

“I had the opportunity to talk to President Trump a few moments ago and wanted to indicate to our colleagues that he will sign the bill that we have been discussing here to guarantee that government workers who have been displaced as a result of the shutdown will ultimately be compensated,” McConnell said. “I want to ease their anxiety about that particular possibility.”