Hundreds of furloughed federal employees took their frustrations and anger to the White House on Thursday, demanding an end to the three-week partial government shutdown.
Fired up on a cold, blustery day, they rallied in front of the AFL-CIO headquarters on 16th Street NW across Lafayette Square. The crowd was large enough for the police to close the block as Democratic members of Congress and union leaders praised feds and denounced President Trump. After the rally, the protesters marched through the square to within shouting distance from Trump’s front door.
He couldn’t hear the chants of “pay the workers, furlough Trump” because he was on a public-relations campaign to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas in support of his border wall. His demand for more than $5 billion for the wall he promised Mexico would fund is behind the shutdown that has 800,000 feds furloughed or forced to work with no guarantee of when they will be paid.
Negotiations with Democratic leaders quickly collapsed Wednesday when Trump walked out of a White House meeting after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) again refused to provide tax dollars for the wall.
The shutdown situation is bleak. All taxpayers should be outraged that much of the government is out of order.
Maria Middleton is.
She attended the rally to tell members of Congress “while they are tweedlydeeing and tweedlyduming about some damn wall — excuse my French — that lives are being affected.” Middleton, a Treasury Department employee and National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) shop steward, emphasized she was speaking for herself during an interview.
As much as she wants to return to work, like others at the rally Middleton doesn’t want the Democrats to bow to Trump’s demands on wall funding. “Let the Trump family pay for it,” she said. Noting the seizure of 110 pounds of the opioid fentanyl in Philadelphia last year, she asked “are we going to extend the wall around Philadelphia? … We don’t need to cave in.”
American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox Sr. told the protesters Trump’s “effort at extortion is more of a lockout than a shutdown. But maybe an even more accurate description of this is that it’s a shakedown.”
The Mexico promise was a sham, as is so much from a president who lies as though it is his favorite recreational activity. But the lack of paychecks is real. Friday is the first day checks will not be issued. Many are hurting.
Listen to Talten Hall, a 54-year-old Silver Spring, Md., resident who delights in his work as a gardener in the parks surrounding the White House. “I love my job. I love planting flowers and pulling weeds and making it all look good,” the NTEU member and National Park Service employee told the crowd.
He hates being furloughed.
“I’m hurting financially. I count on each and every paycheck to pay my bills,” he said. “I should be back at work and I should be getting paid for my time.” In an interview later, he mentioned postponing hernia surgery. “I had to put that on the back burner, because of the co-pay,” he said. “That’s $20 that can go somewhere else … as long as I’m not in pain.”
The rally in the District was one of several around the country, including Kentucky, Colorado, Massachusetts, California, Minnesota, West Virginia and Florida. “These rallies today illustrate not only how high the anxiety level has risen,” said NTEU President Tony Reardon, “but also how committed these employees are to serving their country.”
Upon leaving the White House a couple of hours before the rally, Trump made his case for the wall in his customary fearmongering, deceitful fashion. “This is a crisis,” he proclaimed. “You have human trafficking. You have drugs. You have criminals coming in. You have gangs, MS-13. … The Democrats don’t care about the border, and they don’t care about crime.”
Yet the shutdown this law-and-order president was once proud to claim is hurting law enforcement officers. Border Patrol agents are among the federal employees required to work without pay. Nonetheless, the leadership of their union, the National Border Patrol Council, strongly supports Trump and his wall, while the American Federation of Government Employees and AFL-CIO, the council’s parent organizations, emphatically do not.
The FBI Agents Association, however, urged Congress and the White House to quickly resolve the budget dispute before its members’ “financial insecurity compromises national security.” In a petition to the government’s elected leaders, the association said “missing payments on debts could create delays in securing or renewing security clearances.” In addition to undermining “the FBI’s ability to recruit and retain high-caliber professionals,” the shutdown and the “ongoing financial insecurity caused by the failure to fund the FBI could lead some FBI Agents to consider career options that provide more stability for their families.”
Meanwhile, the AFGE and NTEU are suing the federal government, arguing it is against the law to require employees to work without pay. “If employees are working, they must be paid — and if there is not money to pay them, then they should not be working,” Reardon said Wednesday.
Congress has approved legislation that would provide back pay to federal employees, when — or should that be if? — they get back to work. The Senate also is considering a House-approved 1.9 percent pay raise this year that would nullify Trump’s plan for a federal civilian pay freeze.
Federal employees have received back pay after previous shutdowns. However, many federal contractors, some of them low-wage workers, did not. Thirty-four Democratic senators, led by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) also are urging the administration to ensure back pay for federal contractors who are losing money during the shutdown.
“It is in the federal government’s best interest to provide funding to the extent necessary to ensure that contractors deliver back pay to their workers,” said the senators’ letter to the Office of Management and Budget. “Contractor employees cannot afford the chaos and uncertainty of government shutdowns, and some of these workers may seek other jobs if back pay is not provided to compensate for shutdown-related losses.”