Rank-and-file work­ers have a lot to lose

Ef­fects are vast as shut­down drags on

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Mered­ith Co­lias-Pete Post-Tri­bune

As a his­toric fed­eral gov­ern­ment shut­down drags on, rank-and-file work­ers are the ones with the most to lose, said a long­time fed­eral em­ployee.

An­drew Cabi­ness, 44, of Mun­ster, went through the 17-day fed­eral gov­ern­ment shut­down in Oc­to­ber 2013. With a back­ground in math­e­mat­ics, he has worked for the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau for 19 years.

Again fur­loughed, this time he is more con­cerned with thou­sands of hourly wage work­ers who missed their first full pay­check on Fri­day.

Many can’t af­ford to be with­out steady pay and may be forced to look for other jobs. If they do, it will also force man­agers to hire re­place­ments once the shut­down ends, he said.

Asked what he would tell Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump or U.S. con­gres­sional lead­ers di­rectly, he said they needed to un­der­stand the worry for these work­ers who wait for their next pay­check.

“It’s in­cred­i­bly stress­ful; it’s a lot of anx­i­ety,” he said. “And, it feels worse when it’s not any­thing you did.”

“This just seems like us­ing a bunch of fed­eral work­ers as lever­age to get some­thing that doesn’t re­late to what we do,” Cabi­ness said.

Last time, in 2013, he and his wife felt a big­ger strain, he said. Back then, he was the pri­mary bread­win­ner while she was study­ing re­s­pi­ra­tory ther­apy.

Over two weeks with­out pay meant they had to stop hir­ing a babysit­ter and ne­go­ti­ate to pay their mort­gage a lit­tle late.

“A lot of things that I imag­ine a lot of peo­ple had to do this time, we had to do then,” he said.

This time, they are in bet­ter fi­nan­cial shape.

He chose to dip into his re­tire­ment sav­ings to help them pay bills and float un­til he goes back to work. If he doesn’t make up that dif­fer­ence, at worst he might have to work around an­other year or so be­fore re­tire­ment, he said.

“I’m not look­ing for sym­pa­thy for my­self, but I do un­der­stand that peo­ple ... across the gov­ern­ment are hav­ing se­ri­ous prob­lems right now, be­cause of this,” he said.

“It’s a very real im­pact on 800,000 peo­ple and re­gard­less of whether you are for or against what’s be­ing ne­go­ti­ated — that this is a ter­ri­ble way to do it,” Cabi­ness said. “Peo­ple can be for the wall or against the wall. Us­ing this as a way to re­solve that is a hor­ri­ble way to do it.”

Hav­ing the sec­ond ex­tended shut­down in just over five years was also con­cern­ing, he said.

“A lot of rea­sons that peo­ple go and work for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is that it’s stable em­ploy­ment. As the econ­omy goes up and down over the years, fed­eral em­ploy­ment stays pretty stable,” he said. “This is start­ing to give peo­ple sec­ond thoughts about that.”

Fed­eral work­ers re­ceived pay stubs Fri­day with noth­ing but ze­roes on them as the ef­fects of the gov­ern­ment shut­down hit home, deep­en­ing anx­i­eties about mort­gage pay­ments and un­paid bills.

All told, an es­ti­mated 800,000 gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees missed their pay­checks for the first time since the shut­down be­gan three weeks ago. Satur­day it be­came the long­est shut­down in U.S. his­tory.

Roughly 420,000 fed­eral em­ploy­ees were deemed es­sen­tial and are work­ing un­paid. An ad­di­tional 380,000 are stay­ing home with­out pay.

Law­mak­ers tried to re­as­sure fed­eral em­ploy­ees on Fri­day that Con­gress was aware of the fi­nan­cial hard­ship they are en­dur­ing. By a vote of 411-7, the House passed a bill re­quir­ing that all gov­ern­ment work­ers re- ceive retroac­tive pay after the par­tial shut­down ends. The Se­nate ap­proved the bill unan­i­mously Thurs­day. The pres­i­dent is ex­pected to sign the leg­is­la­tion.

Gov­ern­ment con­trac­tors, who have been placed in­def­i­nitely on un­paid leave, for now, don’t get com­pen­sated for lost hours. The min­i­mum wage for con­trac­tors is about $10 per hour, per the U.S. Depart­ment of La­bor.

The typ­i­cal fed­eral em­ployee makes $37 an hour, which trans­lates into $1,480 a week, ac­cord­ing to La­bor Depart­ment data. That’s nearly $1.2 bil­lion in lost pay each week, when mul­ti­plied by 800,000 fed­eral work­ers.

Many work­ers live pay­check to pay­check, de­spite the strong econ­omy and the ul­tra-low un­em­ploy­ment rate, and would strug­gle if their wages or salaries were in­ter­rupted.

A Fed­eral Re­serve sur­vey in May found that 40 per­cent of Amer­i­cans would have to bor­row or sell some­thing to make a $400 emer­gency pay­ment.

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