(Editor's Note: This story was originally published in the Labor Tribune print edition on Oct. 10, 2013, the week after the partial government shutdown started. See additional coverage in the Oct. 17, 2013 print edition of the Labor Tribune and check back here for follow-up coverage.)
By TIM ROWDEN
Furloughed government employees and their allies rallied and picketed outside government work sites and Congressional offices in St. Louis last week – and planned to continue this week and until the government shutdown is ended – to demand an end to the lockout that is preventing them from doing their jobs, providing services to the American people.
“We urge all concerned citizens to join us in demonstrating that we want the federal government funded and working,” said Steve Hollis, president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 3354. “All concerned citizens should also call their members of Congress every day to demand a clean funding bill, a clean debt ceiling bill, and support for bipartisan legislation to provide back pay to federal workers who have been locked out at no fault of their own. That is the only way we can recover the impact of the $5 million in daily lost wages resulting from these furloughs.”
The shutdown began October 1 when the Republican House of Representatives – led by Tea Party Republicans – refused to approve a bill funding the government unless it included provisions designed to delay or defund the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, which is now being implemented.
Since then, 800,000 federal employees have been locked out of their jobs.
Some of those workers were expected to head back to work this week after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered nearly 350,000 back on the job, citing a Pentagon interpretation of a law called the Pay Our Military Act.
Those who remain at home or working without paychecks also came a step closer to getting back pay once the partial government shutdown ends. The Senate was expected to act this week on the measure that passed the House unanimously on Oct 5.
AFGE members along with members of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of Teachers Local 420 conducted informational picketing at the Federal Center at 4300 Goodfellow last week, chanting: “No Shutdown! No Lockdown! Let’s Get Down! Let’s Work!”
They have pledged to return each working day at 11 a.m. until the shutdown is resolved.
Jason Alexander, a tax processor for the USDA and a father of four, said he’d begun contacting his creditors last week asking for leniency until the shutdown is resolved.
“We’re a paycheck-to-paycheck family,” Alexander said. “Without half of our income coming in, it’s hurting our family. We’ve got to get back to work. We’ve got to take care of our families.”
Elly Calderon, a mother of three expecting her fourth child in a few weeks, is a bilingual customer service representative at the Federal Center. She said it’s stressful to think about how her bills will be paid.
“It’s affecting everyone,” she said. “We’re out her because we want to get back to our jobs.”
Violet Esters, a member of AFGE Local 104, joined the group in solidarity, even though she is still working at the National Archives under reimbursable funding from the military.
“What I’m upset about is Congress gets paid regardless,” Esters said. “They’re getting paid while they’re holding up thousands of federal government workers’ pay.”
Holding up the budget over the Affordable Care Act is just wrong, she said.
“It’s done. It’s law,” Esters said. “They should not be holding up peoples’ pay because of this.”
HOLDING THE ECONOMY HOSTAGE
Meanwhile, across town at the at the Department of Veteran Affairs at 400 South 18th Street, members of Organizing for Action – Missouri, SEIU, fast food workers, communications workers, the Alliance for Retired Americans, the Sierra Club and others picketed and spoke out about what the shutdown means workers, taxpayers, veterans and those dependent on government programs.
Dave Meinell, president of the Missouri Alliance for Retired Americans, said Social Security benefit applications could be delayed as well as benefit payments, as a result of the shutdown.
“We are here because a narrow, slim margin of individuals on Capitol Hill chose to hold the American economy hostage because they couldn't get their way on Obamacare,” said James Page Jr., St. Louis Chapter Lead of Organizing for Action.
Page urged participants to contact their representatives in Congress to insist that they pass a clean continuing resolution to end the shutdown.
Missouri State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis) joined the protest at the VA, noting that Early Childhood education funding will be impacted by the shutdown.
“What we’re saying to Congress is ‘Enough!’ ” Nasheed said. “We’re going to have to get the extremists out of Congress.”
NO MORE TEA
Protesters traveled to Ballwin to meet with U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO), but were met with a closed door that no one would answer.
They posted a sign on the door telling Wagner they’d had enough of the tea (a reference to Tea Party Republicans) and stating that they wanted their government back.
Protesters also traveled to Clayton to meet with U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt’s staff. They were hopeful that Sen. Blunt (R-MO), who has stated publically that the shutdown was a mistake, would be able to get House Republicans to allow a vote, up or down, on a clean funding bill passed by the Senate.
An aide for Blunt promised to pass along their request.
‘UNACCEPTABLE’ AND ‘WRONG’
U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) called the shutdown “completely unacceptable.”
“This will upset our economic recovery and cause thousands of Missourians real pain,” McCaskill said. “(The House Republicans) know that the President will not back up on his work to provide affordable and accessible health care. They know that the Senate will not overturn these reforms. A decision was made at the ballot box last November, and supporters of the Affordable Care Act were returned to office by the American people. We can negotiate federal spending and the budget. We should not negotiate on keeping our government functioning and paying our bills.”
Congressman Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO) said House Republicans “proved that they hat the President more than they love their country.”
Clay said House Speaker John Boehner caved in to the anarchists in his own caucus
“House Republicans allowed their Tea Party tantrum to shut down the federal government and bring the United States closer to defaulting on our debt,” Clay said. “That’s selfish, irresponsible and wrong.”