Federal workers are already tired of being a pawn in grand legislative chess games, the head of the largest federal employee union said Monday, and now they face the possibility of working indefinitely without pay after the House GOP forced a government shutdown at midnight.
“We call it a lockout because federal and D.C. employees are gonna be locked out of their jobs,” American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) President J. David Cox told ThinkProgress. “Fifty percent of federal employees will go to work and not get paid. Back pay is totally dependent on the will of Congress.” Previous shutdown resolutions have included back pay for federal workers, but “there is no requirement for Congress to pay them,” Cox said.
The shutdown pay question is only the latest example of how the workers Cox represents have been caught in the middle of dead-end fights over spending. “Our people have already been on the edge because many of them have been furloughed for six days already this year, so that’s a week and a day of pay loss already,” Cox said. “Three years of pay freezes. Every employee this year paying 2.3 percent more into their retirement. A lot of the people we represent make 35 to 40 thousand dollars per year, these are not fat cats,” he added.
Between pay freezes, furlough days, and general fiscal chaos impeding their work, federal employees who spoke to ThinkProgress hours before the shutdown indicated they are under serious financial strain and worried that a shutdown will make things worse. Some spoke of their departments losing talented people as a result of recent budget fighting.
Yet some who work on behalf of taxpayers will not face those hardships. The companies that provide food, retail, building maintenance, and other services at federal facilities through government contracts will see those contracts paid out no matter what happens with the shutdown. “Please understand that all these service contracts will be paid, the contractors will be paid regardless of a government shutdown,” Cox said. “It’s a double standard that’s going on. Even if the services aren’t provided, the contracts must be paid.” The service contracts Cox referred to subsidize low-wage jobs and funnel billions to CEOs at companies that do work in federal buildings.