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Frustrated employees protest government shutdown, want to return to work (with photo gallery)

   

ST. LOUIS — Federal employees chanted, “This is not a vacation! We want to work!” outside the Federal Center in north St. Louis to protest the government shutdown on Oct. 1. Many employees arrived to work at their usual 6 a.m. start time and were told to leave four hours later. Instead of going home, about 20 employees stood outside the Federal Center to voice their frustration and fears.

Now, they’re wondering and waiting because no work means no pay.

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“It’s devastating because we all live paycheck to paycheck,” said Mary Jordan, who has worked at the USDA since 1986. “They made us poor class. We’re not even middle class.”

The shutdown comes after a three-year pay freeze, a 15-20 percent decrease in staff and a former sequestration, said Steve Hollis, AFGE chapter 3354 president of the AFGE.

Ebony Woodsbey, Centralized Services Center processor, said federal employees are “feeling the blow” and are “constantly dealing with less,” which is killing the workers’ moral. Woodsbey said she feels she has no choices as if Congress told her, “Just deal with it.”

“I just feel as a federal worker, I wasn’t given an option with this situation,” she said. “[The situation] has nothing to do with us. We have no options.”

Woodsbey’s parents both suffer from cancer. She has watched them in their insurance struggles. Her mother, she said, pays nearly $400 per month. Woodsbey said she has friends, family members and people she attended high school with who can’t afford health insurance. A part of her frustration is that she cannot understand why a furlough and the Affordable Care Act have to be tied together. Woodsbey has witnessed the harsh effects of life without health insurance, knowing people who cannot afford to see a doctor.

“I’ve had customers who literally died because they couldn’t afford health insurance,” Woodsbey said. “You shouldn’t have to choose.”

A line of federal employees hold signs in protest of the government shutdown.
A line of federal employees hold signs in protest of the government shutdown. (Photos by Brittany Ruess)

Diane Maldonado, a USDA development loan processor, said she lives paycheck to paycheck and has asked herself the simple yet complex question, “What am I going to do?” She received a paycheck on Oct. 1, she said, but that money runs out. Maldonado said she can live with eating little, but needs to serve healthy meals for her family. She has even thought about applying for food stamps for the time being, but said she won’t receive the assistance without a proper pay stub.

Depending on when she returns to work, Maldonado said she might have to pay two insurance premiums in addition to the $300 per month she pays out of pocket. Maldonado is an at-home dialysis patient. She realized she might have to pay for two premiums with less money when her son brought in the mail and bills today.

“It’s a double whammy,” she said.

Even with her own concerns, Maldonado said she worries about the people she aids daily. She serves low-income residents all across the country who are trying to be a homeowner or stay in their homes through loan programs. Some of these people, she said, have trouble reading, writing or are bilingual and Maldonado’s job is to help them navigate the process. This loan process, Maldonado added, can be very lengthy and will take even longer for the “anxious” loan applicants because of the government shutdown.

“They get worried,” Maldonado said. “They don’t want to lose their homes.”

With no one in her office, she said, no one is even there to pick up the phone.

Protesters of the government shutdown shout and raise their signs as cars honk when passing by.
Protesters of the government shutdown shout and raise their signs as cars honk when passing by. (Photos from Brittany Ruess)

“[The government is] making us suffer,” Maldonado said. “We will suffer through it and we hope we can come back and continue our job because what we do is wonderful and we’re proud of it. I’m proud of it. I’m glad to help make this American dream a reality through all around the country. It’s an honor for me.”

The preparation for the shutdown, 17-year tax processor Jason Alexander said, was unorganized. He arrived to work at 6 a.m., but wasn’t given directions on how to proceed with the shutdown until 9:30 a.m. He had to leave the building an hour later. Alexander endured the government shutdown in 1996 and was out of work for two pay periods. If that happens again, Alexander, a father of four, said he will be out about $2,300-$2,400. His children play sports and if he is without that money, he said participating in sports might have to go from the budget.

Hollis helped organize the rally on Oct. 1 and three more on Oct. 2. They will take place from 11 a.m. to noon at the following places:

  • – Congresswoman Ann Wagner’s office at 301 Sovereign Court in Ballwin, Mo.
  • – Congressman John Shimkus’ office at 15 Professional Park Drive in Maryville, Ill.
  • – The Federal Center on 4300 Goodfellow in St. Louis