Washington D.C. – On the 19th day of the government shutdown and hours away from missing their first paychecks, thousands of federal employees rallied in cities around the country today to demand they be allowed to get back to work, and for both those employees who are furloughed and required to work, get paid as soon as possible.
In downtown Washington, employees from various agencies and labor unions gathered just down the street from the White House to protest being locked out of their jobs without pay.
“Federal employees are no longer just frustrated and concerned, they are downright angry, and they should be,” National Treasury Employees Union President Tony Reardon said. “These rallies today illustrate not only how high the anxiety level has risen, but also how committed these employees are to serving their country.”
NTEU members, many of them furloughed, streamed into Washington by the busload to join the rally with a number of other labor unions outside the AFL-CIO headquarters.
“When this shutdown ends, the history books will remember that it was the anguished voices of middle class federal workers that ultimately pressured our elected officials to end the stalemate and re-open government,” Reardon said. “I commend the thousands of frontline civil servants who were willing to publicly stand up and demand to be treated fairly.”
One of the employees participating in the Washington rally was Talten Hall, a long-time leader of NTEU Chapter 336 and National Park Service maintenance worker whose responsibilities include Lafayette Square, just across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.
“I love my job because I get to take care of one of the most important public squares in all the world. The ‘President’s Park’ is a beautiful, exciting space where tourists flock and passionate citizens exercise their First Amendment rights,” Hall said. “They deserve to have me on the job making sure the park is beautiful and photo-ready. I want to be back at work.”
NTEU members around the country held their own rallies, including Kentucky, Colorado, Massachusetts, California, Minnesota, West Virginia, Florida and many others.
The lapse in appropriations began at 12:01 a.m. Dec. 22, meaning thousands of federal employees will miss their first full paycheck this week.
“This is not like the private sector. Their business didn’t fail. Their employer didn’t close up shop. The federal government is an around-the-clock provider of security and protector of public health and safety, and federal employees need to be on the job, period,” Reardon said.
NTEU has filed two lawsuits challenging the government’s ability to force people to work without pay.
Another NTEU member at the rally is Stephanie Marrone, secretary of NTEU Chapter 336 and a park guide at Oxon Cove Park, a working farm in Maryland run by the National Park Service.
“This is my third week of furlough. My income has dried up but my bills keep coming,” Marrone said. “I’m not just worried about my personal finances, though. I’m worried about the taxpayers – the thousands of families with children who love Oxon Hill Farm as much as I do. They should not be deprived of this special place, and I should not be deprived of my salary.”
NTEU has also filed two separate lawsuits about the shutdown. The first alleges that requiring federal employees to work without pay during a shutdown violates the Fair Labor Standards Act. The second, filed late Wednesday, is a broader constitutional claim that challenges the ability of the executive branch to spend money that has not been appropriated by Congress, which is what happens when certain employees are ordered to work only to be paid after the shutdown ends. As the IRS prepares to call back thousands of employees in order to process tax refunds, NTEU is also challenging the administration’s ability to require employees to work during the shutdown even if their jobs are not related to protecting human life and property.
NTEU-represented agencies affected by the lapse in appropriations include: IRS, Customs and Border Protection, Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Communications Commission, Food and Drug Administration, Federal Election Commission, National Park Service, Patent and Trademark Office, Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
NTEU represents 150,000 employees at 33 federal agencies and departments.