Workforce

Feds protest shutdown and Senate GOP at Nats Park

AFGE National President J. David Cox on the megaphone at a Jan 17 2019 protest (Photo credit: Chase Gunter/FCW) 

Union leader J. David Cox speaks at a Jan 17 2019 protest (Photo credit: Chase Gunter/FCW)

Federal employees and unions took to an unlikely location Thursday to voice their frustration over partial government shutdown: Nationals Park.

There was a logic to the January ballpark visit, however. Republican senators held their annual retreat at the Washington, D.C., stadium. "We wanted to come down here today to call attention to the fact they thought it was a good idea to come to a baseball stadium," said Tucker McDonald, political director of the American Federation of Government Employees. "They're not in their office, talking to constituents… People are worried about mortgage payments, and they're at a baseball stadium."

AFGE, the Machinists Union, the Teamsters, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, the United Automobile Workers, Jobs with Justice and the Communications Workers of America were among the labor organizations represented at the Jan. 17 protest.

"We don't know what they're doing in there," said McDonald. "They could be taking batting practice, they could be drinking a beer, they could be eating a hot dog. But they're getting paid."

Attendees clamored for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to "call the vote" on the bills passed by the House, and chanted for fellow members to "do your job" and reopen government. They also performed a rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," with lyrics revised to reflect frustration with the ongoing lack of pay.

Almost a week after the first full missed paycheck and with no end to the standoff in sight, the troubles facing feds are "starting to accelerate," said William Attig, the executive director of the AFL-CIO's Union Veterans Council.

Attig, whose organization represents veterans across government, said that for many working in government without a paycheck, they're feeling "stressed, heightened anxiety, a feeling of hopelessness."

"Our folks are living paycheck to paycheck -- not all of them, but a lot of them are," he said, adding, "we're very concerned" over the external and financial stresses on veterans created by the prolonged period without pay.

Attig also said the shutdown has tangible impacts to the ability to carry out agency missions. Because veterans constitute such a significant percentage of federal employees across government, he said he's worried about a large number of veterans potentially quitting their public sector jobs, or losing out on security clearances because of worsened credit.

Nate James, an IT specialist at the Environmental Protection Agency, said, "what I'm hearing most of all [from fellow employees] is they're in a dire situation."

The extended shutdown " takes it to a whole other level," he said. "Rents are due, car notes are due, tuitions are due, day care is due. ... Nothing has stopped but our check."

James, who is also the president of AFGE local 3331, noted while some of his colleagues are being called back to work, he's on furlough.

Francis Nichols, a pretrial services officer at the Pretrial Services Agency in Washington, D.C., made the point that in addition to going unpaid, any business expenses incurred -- such as parking and travel -- during a shutdown can't be reimbursed till government gets funded.

Nichols noted that "most of our employees are excepted employees," and for some, the lack of pay forces "choices" between personal or family expenses and potential consequences for missing work.

Rep. TJ Cox (D-Calif.) introduced a bill, along with 84 cosponsors, that would give federal employees impacted by the shutdown interest-free loans of up to $6,000.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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