Chicago’s Federal Workers To Congress: Stop Political Games, Avoid Government Shutdown (VIDEO)

With the threat of a government shutdown getting closer by the hour, more than 60 federal civilian employees protested at Chicago’s Federal Plaza Monday, calling on Congress to “stop the lockout.” Progress Illinois attended the rally.

With the threat of a government shutdown getting closer by the hour, more than 60 federal civilian employees protested at Chicago’s Federal Plaza Monday afternoon, calling on Congress to “stop the lockout.”

A number of the union members, represented by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), said they are among some 800,000 federal employees deemed “non-essential” who could be furloughed if the government shuts down Tuesday, the start of the 2014 fiscal year.

Critical employees including active-duty military and workers in areas concerning national security, health care, and public safety, among others, would continue to receive their paychecks in the event of a shutdown, although their payments may be delayed. Mail delivery and benefits from programs like Medicare and Social Security would continue if the government temporarily closes.

“The federal employees and the agencies we work for are being held as bargaining chips in this fight in Congress and the White House,” said Brent Barron, president of AFGE Local 648, which represents employees at the U.S. Department of Labor. “We’re being used as pawns in that political battle right now.”

There are roughly 52,000 federal employees in Illinois who could be impacted by the shutdown, with roughly 5,000 being in Chicago, said Barron.

Barron noted that the recent political games being played in Congress has led some long-time federal employees to throw up their hands and make the choice to retire or leave employment with the federal government altogether.

“They can’t take this up-and-down rollercoaster day by day,” he said. “Am I going to be paid? Am I not going to get paid? Is my job going be there? Is what I do important to anyone?”

Barron said 82 percent of the Labor Department’s 17,000 employees would be furloughed, unless Congress can reach an agreement on a continuing resolution to keep the government running temporarily by no later than midnight tonight.

It’s not looking too optimistic, however, that House Republican leaders will put the brinkmanship aside before the deadline.

Over the weekend, the GOP-led House approved a stopgap spending bill that would temporarily fund the government on the condition that the Affordable Care Act is delayed for a year and a tax on medical devices, meant to pay from some of the health reform law, is repealed.

As expected, the Senate removed the amendments earlier this afternoon regarding ObamaCare and the medical device tax. The chamber also stripped the bill of language that would grant employers the ability to not to offer health insurance to employees that covers contraception if it goes against their moral or religious views. The chamber then sent a clean continuing resolution back, yet again, to the House.

It looks like House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH, 8) is going to bring up a new spending measure Monday night that includes a one-year delay of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate and strip the exemption for members of Congress. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said any new tweaks to the spending measure would be immediately removed from the continuing resolution in the Senate.

“Twenty, 30 minutes, we’ll get rid of that,” he said. “We’re not going to negotiate on this. We have done everything we can to be fair and reasonable.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is expected to tell most of its 17,000 employees to stay home without pay tomorrow if the government temporarily closes.

John O’Grady, president of AFGE Local 704, which represents 1,000 employees at the EPA’s regional office in Chicago, said workers who protect wetlands and monitor waste water treatment plants will be furloughed. Other federal employees who oversee hazardous waste sites or inspect underground storage tanks that may be leaking would also be asked to stay home if the government shuts down, he said.

“We’re not going to have mine inspectors out there protecting the miners, so it is going to be significant, and also, it’s going to cost a lot of money to do this,” O’Grady said. “It’s going to cost money to shut it down. It’s going to cost money to start it up.”

Agatha Joseph, president of AFGE Local 1395, which represents some 5,000 Social Security employees throughout Illinois, said although Social Security workers have been deemed “essential”, and would report to work Tuesday regardless of a shutdown, it’s not clear when they would be paid.

Another big question mark is whether Social Security and other “essential” federal employees would be retroactively paid once a continuing resolution passes Congress, she said.

Here’s more from Joseph explaining the situation for Social Security workers and Monday’s rally:

The majority of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) operations would also stop in the event of a shutdown, said Ken Brucks, president of the AFGE Local 911, which represents about 350 HUD employees in Chicago.

Services to homeless veterans would cease, Brucks said, and people looking for affordable housing or those who want to finance apartment units, for example, are out of luck.

There’s also a real concern about what a temporary government shutdown would mean for state services funded primarily by the federal government and the state workers who administer them, said Anders Lindall, spokesman of AFSCME Council 31.

“At this point, I think we have more questions than answers about how a shutdown on the federal level might disrupt those services, but there is a real worry that if federal funds are cut off, that services on the ground level across Illinois might be curtailed,” he said.

Services provided by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, the state department of labor, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois EPA, to name a few, could feel an impact, he noted.

“There’s no reason for (a shutdown) other than political gamesmanship and grandstanding on the part of the Republican majority in the House,” Lindall said. “They’re playing political football with essential services for the people of Illinois and every state across the country. That’s unacceptable.”

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