(Editor's Note: The following story was originally published in the Oct. 17-23 edition of the Labor Tribune, which was published prior to Congress reaching a short-term deal to end the shutdown.)
By TIM ROWDEN
As the impasse in Washington dragged through its second week, furloughed government employees and their allies rallied and picketed outside government work sites and visited Congressional offices again last week to demand an end to the lockout that is hurting their families and the people they serve by preventing them from doing their jobs.
Federal workers rallied outside the Federal Center at 4300 Goodfellow Blvd. daily last week. They also visited the offices of Congressman John Shimkus (R-IL) and Congresswoman Ann Wagoner (R-MO) to ask for their help in ending the shutdown.
‘WE WANT TO WORK!’
Meanwhile, in Washington, hundreds of locked-out federal workers, members of the American Federation of Government Employees, AFSCME, the Service Employees, the Treasury Employees and other unions, marched on Capitol Hill on Oct. 10, chanting “We want to work!” “We want to work!”
The march was one of a series of protests, both in D.C. and around the country, by the locked-out workers, victims of the ruling Republicans’ absolute insistence that no money bill funding the country could pass unless it also defunded the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration’s health care law.
Sympathetic Democratic lawmakers, speaking to the crowd, vowed that tradeoff would never occur – and also demanded that House Speaker Boehner allow a vote on the temporary money bill, called a continuing resolution (CR). They said the 200 House Democrats have enough GOP support to pass the CR, if Boehner would permit a vote.
“Half of our members are working without a paycheck, and the other half aren’t working at all,” AFGE President J. David Cox, whose union has 600,000 members, said.
“They’ve locked our veterans out of filing claims. Airplanes aren’t being inspected” for safety. “They’ve locked miners out because there are no mine inspectors. And children are being locked out of Head Start.”
UNABLE TO FILE FOR UNEMPLOYMENT
In St. Louis, Robin Olson, a furloughed employee and member of the AFGE Local 3354, was feeling the crushing financial weight of the shutdown as she tried to apply for unemployment compensation in Missouri, but had to keep entering the same information over and over again on the phone. After several days, she had not been able to get her claim filed.
She joined with other picketers visiting Shimkus’ office in the hope of getting his commitment to join with other moderate Republicans to support a discharge petition to force a vote on the clean funding bill from the Senate.
“When we have met with Congressman Shimkus in the past in Springfield office on federal employee issues, he has seemed to listen to us and has supported us in some cases,” Olson said.
STATE PROGRAMS THREATENED
Bradley Harmon, president of Communications Workers Local 6355, which represents state workers in the Missouri Office of Administration, the Department of Social Services, and Health and Senior Services, said the partial shutdown of the federal government would begin impacting state programs that rely on federal funding in about two weeks.
Programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, will struggle if the shutdown continues beyond then, he said.
Funding for food stamps and the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, are also threatened, he said.
“Right now, it’s federal employees who are bearing the brunt of this,” Harmon said. “But if it doesn't get resolved soon this is going to start impacting people in very significant ways.”
With an Oct. 17 deadline looming for Congress to raise the debt ceiling or risk defaulting on the national debt – a move that could send both the dollar and global financial markets into a tailspin – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) launched last-ditch negotiations over the weekend to end the stalemate, but it remained unclear whether they could reach an agreement that would pass both the House and Senate.
(Editor's Note: The 16-day shutdown ended Oct. 16 when Congress passed last-minute legislation to fund the government until Jan. 15 and give Treasury the ability to borrow above the $16.7 trillion debt limit until Feb. 7. )
CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE
For furloughed workers like Tena Wilson, a rural housing loans processor who works at the Federal Center on Goodfellow, the end to the crisis couldn’t come soon enough.
“My husband and I both work here,” she said. “That’s two incomes at one time.”
Wilson, a mother of three, said she had been contacting her creditors to ask for leniency because she was not sure when they’d see another paycheck.
Wilson expressed the frustration of many of the furloughed workers, who are unable to do their jobs or get paid.
“We shouldn’t be caught in the middle of a political standoff,” she said. “This has nothing to do with us.”
(Some information for this story from Mark Gruenberg, editor of Press Associates Union News Service.)