Furloughed workers in food lines, another airport security checkpoint closure, and renewed calls for direct action as a deal from the White House gets rejected.
Welcome to day 30 of the government shutdown.
As one airport security officer told BBC News on Sunday, “It’s scary, I don’t know how long we’ll last and I don’t know how bad it’ll get before it’ll get better.”
It’s a fair summation of what workers — those furloughed by the shutdown and those who have had to work without pay — are facing, as the longest work-stoppage of its kind stretches on, with no certain end in sight.
In televised remarks Saturday, President Donald Trump floated a wan compromise to end the impasse, in which he’d trade a three-year reprieve for immigrants living in the United States under two programs that give them the right to live here temporarily — DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and TPS (Temporary Protective Status) — in exchange for $5.7 billion in border wall funding. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) pre-empted Trump’s remarks by calling the deal “a non-starter.”
The shutdown began in late December, when Trump vetoed a short-term funding bill, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) whipped his GOP caucus to support. The bill passed the Senate unanimously, but the president pulled the rug out from under his own party’s feet by withdrawing his support for it.
Ironically, as the New York Times reported earlier this month, “immigration hard-liners do not regard the wall as their highest priority and fear that Mr. Trump’s preoccupation with it will prompt him to cut a deal that trades a relatively ineffectual measure for major concessions on immigration.” This highlights how difficult it is to haggle over border wall funding when the purpose of the wall is not to be built, but to serve as a vehicle for continual anti-immigrant sentiment.
But as the back-and-forth between lawmakers drags on, workers affected by the federal closure continue to bear the brunt of the president’s decision to “own the shutdown” and nix December’s agreed-to deal to keep the government funded.
As the Huffington Post reported, officials at Thurgood Marshall Airport in Baltimore, Maryland were forced to close one of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints due to “excessive call-outs,” which are becoming something of a mainstay for air travelers as the shutdown wends on. TSA workers, deemed essential employees, have been working without pay since the shutdown began.
In a statement released Saturday, the TSA noted that the agency has “experienced a national rate of 7 percent of unscheduled absences compared to a 3 percent rate one year ago,” and that “many employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations.”
Meanwhile, in Washington, DC-Metropolitan area, furloughed workers continue to deal with food insecurity as local food banks struggle to pick up the slack. As the Washington Post reported on Saturday, one such food bank set up in the parking lot of a Giant Food in Northern Virginia drew thirty furloughed workers, who waited more than an hour in the cold. As one woman told a food bank volunteer, “For many, many years, I sent in donations to the Capital Area Food Bank…This is the first time I’ve had to ask for help.”
As financial pressure on furloughed workers mounts, there are increasing calls for direct action to force an end to the impasse.
Saturday morning, Splinter News published an anonymous editorial from two employees of the federal government, imploring those who have had to remain on the job without pay to stage a work stoppage of their own.
“This farce has continued long enough,” they wrote, “The indignities to both the federal workforce and the American public should never have been allowed to go this far. It is time for federal workers to organize and strike the government.”
“If you’re an “essential” federal employee reading this, join your union today, and call in sick as soon as possible,” they added. This strategy for ending the shutdown was suggested earlier this week by The American Prospect’s Joseph McCartin, who wrote:
A wave of illness among federal workers would not be an act of selfishness, but a patriotic gesture in defense of the common good and in solidarity with less fortunate workers. By falling ill, federal employees would be standing up not only for their furloughed colleagues but for suffering contract workers, including janitors, cafeteria workers, and others with low wages, who will get no back pay when this crisis ends.
Of course, as the shutdown continues, the financial impact will continue to spill into other sectors of the economy, including small businesses. Such a sick-out would be a powerful act of solidarity with numerous private sector workers, who also are feeling the clamps of the shutdown.