The new year has started off on a precarious, if all-too-familiar, foot for the nation’s federal employees.
|The federal government is in the midst of a partial shutdown, impacting some 800,000 federal employees, as well as access to government services, with no clear end in sight. Photo credit: Flickr user John Sonderman
As of Jan. 7, the federal government has been partially shut down for 16 days, meaning that for about 800,000 working families, they spent the holidays not knowing when or whether their next paycheck was coming.
“This is not how you treat a workforce that in a very real way makes the federal government function,” said Paul O’Connor, IBEW Government Employees Department director. “These people have mortgages and bills just like everyone else, and they deserve to get paid for their work just like everyone else.”
The shutdown, affecting about one quarter of the government, is the result of stalled negotiations between President Trump and Congress over funding for Trump’s promised border wall. On multiple occasions, Trump has said he was willing to shut down the government over the issue.
It’s the first time in 40 years that the government has shut down three times in one year, reported CNN.
“A lot of people don’t realize that it costs money to shut down the government,” O’Connor said. “And all that work that isn’t getting done, it doesn’t go away. It just piles up.”
About 380,000 federal employees have been furloughed and 420,000 are working without pay, including IBEW members. The employees span various government agencies and states beyond just the Washington, D.C. area.
“A lot of people are isolated from the impact of the shutdown because so many employees are considered essential, which means they have to work anyway, and it creates this illusion that everything is fine, and the government is too big anyway, and that’s just not the case,” O’Connor said. “Some of these employees will get paid retroactively, but for others, there’s no guarantee at all that they’ll get paid.”
O’Connor noted the ripple effects of the shutdown on the family members as well as communities, raising the number of people caught in the crosshairs to likely more than a million.
“Without paychecks, people are putting everything on hold. They’re not going to the movies, they’re not going out to eat, and that hurts those businesses,” O’Connor said. “It’s too easy to not connect the dots and think you’re not affected, but this is impacting a lot of Americans.”
The IBEW is part of the Federal Workers Alliance, a group of unions representing federal employees that have been working with lawmakers to reopen the government.
The American Federation of Government Employees is suing the government for requiring essential employees to work without pay. It sued the government on similar grounds following another shutdown in 2013. In 2017, a U.S. Court ruled that some 25,000 employees were entitled to double pay as damages, reported USA Today.
Adding insult to injury, Trump issued an executive order, in the midst of the shutdown, canceling an expected 2.1 percent pay raise set to take effect on Jan. 1.
“None of this is because of the federal employees. It’s not about their quality of work, their patriotism, their integrity. Yet, they’re the ones paying the price,” O’Connor said. “To play these petty political games on the backs of our neighbors, our family members, our Sunday school teachers, is beyond frustrating.”
It’s possible that Congress could include a pay raise for 2019 in a spending bill to reopen the government, but with negotiations stalled, the possibilities remain unclear.
A new Congress was sworn in last week. The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed a series of bills that would reopen the government, but those bills stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate and were not expected to be signed by Trump.
“I keep telling our members to pay attention to what your members of Congress do,” O’Connor said. “Elections have consequences and it’s up to us to hold them accountable. It’s not enough to promise us things. They need to deliver.”