Shutdown threat stokes financial anxiety among feds

Mark Van Scyoc / DECEMBER 26, 2018: Sign at the visitor’s entrance of the US National Archives states it is closed due to the government shutdown. - Image 
As Congress works to hammer out a funding agreement by its Dec. 20 deadline, government workers continue to grapple with anxiety over another potential shutdown, according to the results of a union survey published Dec. 11.

The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 workers at more than 30 federal agencies and departments, conducted the study to gauge how agency employees are feeling and preparing themselves and their families should they either face a furlough or be ordered to work without pay.

NTEU said 6,200 workers responded to the survey, which was conducted from Dec. 6 to Dec. 11. The results showed a marked difference from the 2019 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. In the FEVS survey, only 2% said that the 35-day partial shutdown in December 2018 made them consider looking for a new job, and 71% said that they were not looking for a new job. In contrast, 63% of NTEU respondents said another shutdown would make them consider leaving federal employment altogether.

NTEU National President Tony Reardon said that the discrepancy may be because of the times in which the FEVS and the NTEU survey were conducted. The FEVS was published Nov. 7, nine months after the shutdown, whereas the potential for another shutdown looms if Congress doesn't meet its Dec. 20 funding deadline.

"Up until a month or two months ago, no one talked about another shutdown," Reardon told reporters on a press call. "They thought it was in the rearview mirror. A month ago, it began to make news again. When we put out the survey last week, it was front and center on people’s minds."

The thought of potential financial repercussions for federal workers was also apparent in NTEU’s survey results. The survey showed that workers who would normally travel for the holidays are reconsidering because of the prospect of cancelled leave in the event of a shutdown and reopening or because they aren’t sure if their finances can stretch to cover travel costs should a shutdown occur and they miss a pay period. More than half of respondents said that "a late December shutdown will interrupt or cancel holiday travel or annual leave."

Almost 82% said they worried about their abilities to pay bills if a shutdown occurs and they miss a paycheck, while 72% said that they have already cut back or plan to cut back on spending because of a potential shutdown.

"This is the time of year where federal workers literally have to sit down with their budgets and plan for a shutdown," Reardon said.

Reardon also said that part of workers' frustration was that there wasn't much they could do to plan ahead for a shutdown. When he visited a call center staffed by IRS workers, they made it clear that they were frustrated that they were at the mercy of a government and Congress that they had little to do with.

"Our message is clear. We just want members of Congress to do their jobs and prevent a shutdown," Reardon said.

About the Author

Lia Russell is a staff writer and associate editor at FCW covering the federal workforce. Before joining FCW, she worked as a freelance labor reporter in San Francisco for outlets such SF Weekly, The American Prospect and The Baffler. Russell graduated with a bachelor's degree from Bard College.

Contact Lia at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @LiaOffLeash.


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