As shut­down drags on, un­paid work­ers strug­gle

Gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees in Con­necti­cut are caught in stand­off over bor­der wall

Hartford Courant - - Front Page - By Ken­neth R. Gosselin

Ever since the par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down started on Dec. 22, Ja­nine Mur­phy has re­ported to her job as an elec­tron­ics tech­ni­cian at Bradley In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Windsor Locks with­out the cer­tainty of when a pay­check will come.

As politi­cians in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., bat­tle over a bor­der wall with Mex­ico, Mur­phy is grow­ing in­creas­ingly anx­ious about how she will pay her bills.

“For me, where it is re­ally start­ing to hit home, I re­cently had an oil de­liv­ery to my house for heat­ing oil this win­ter and I had to put it on my credit card, which is some­thing I don’t nor­mally do,” Mur­phy said. “Be­cause it is on my credit card, there’s in­ter­est I know I have to pay. I’m start­ing to pay for gro­ceries with my credit card.”

She adds: “I worked pretty hard to get my credit card down to noth­ing, and now I am driv­ing them back up be­cause they are more source of in­come at the mo­ment.”

Mur­phy, who­lives in So. Hadley, Mass., and her co-worker Andy Ro­mano, who’s also been on the job, are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly frus­trated try­ing to un­der­stand how their liveli­hoods and per­sonal fi­nances got caught up in a nasty, na­tional po­lit­i­cal fight.

“We serve the fly­ing pub­lic,” said Ro­mano, who lives in West Hart­ford. “We keep the skies safe. Some­thing like a bor­der wall or a for­ti­fied se­cu­rity on our south­ern bor­der has ab­so­lutely noth­ing to do with our jobs so why are we get­ting in­volved in it? So, it re­ally is a head-scratcher for us, and its con­cern­ing. It should be to­tally sep­a­rate from us.”

In ad­di­tion to mort­gage debt, Ro­mano and his wife have $20,000 in stu­dent loans to pay off, plus gro­ceries and credit card pay­ments.

“As­sum­ing the shut­down gets ex­tended, I’m go­ing to have to uti­lize my credit card and ba­si­cally charge ev­ery­thing and maybe take out a per­sonal loan,” Ro­mano said.

Across the coun­try on Fri­day, gov­ern­ment work­ers missed their first pay­checks as the shut­down en­tered its 21st day. Some posted pic­tures of pay stubs on Twit­ter, rail­ing against the stand­off in Wash­ing­ton.

“I saw the ze­ros in my pay stub to­day, and it’s a com­bi­na­tion of re­al­ity set­ting in and just sad­ness,” air traf­fic con­troller Josh Maria told The As­so­ci­ated Press af­ter tweet­ing a screen­shot of his pay stub. “We’re Amer­ica. We can do bet­ter than this.”

The shut­down is start­ing to strain the na­tional avi­a­tion sys­tem, with un­paid se­cu­rity screen­ers stay­ing home or opt­ing for tem­po­rary work else­where.

Mi­ami In­ter­na­tional Air­port is pro­vid­ing the most vis­i­ble ev­i­dence that the shut­down, at the least, is dis­rupt­ing air travel.

Fac­ing dou­ble the usual num­ber of ab­sences among un­paid Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion screen­ers, the Mi­ami air­port will close one of its con­courses most of Sat­ur­day, Sun­day and Mon­day to make sure TSA can ad­e­quately staff the re­main­ing se­cu­rity check­points.

So far, Con­necti­cut air­ports have not ex­pe­ri­enced a short­age of screen­ers.

Mean­while, the na­tional union rep­re­sent­ing 10,000 air traf­fic con­trollers — who also are work­ing with­out pay dur­ing the shut­down — sued the gov­ern­ment Fri­day, claim­ing they are il­le­gally be­ing de­nied pay.

“I think more and more of this cri­sis is go­ing to land in the courts,” U.S. Sen. Chris Mur­phy, D-Conn, said Fri­day. “As this goes into the 21st day and the 22nd day, I would ex­pect more and more lit­i­ga­tion by work­ers go­ing to court to get their pay­checks given to them. There is no rea­son we should be in this sit­u­a­tion.”

Mur­phy spoke at a press con­fer­ence Fri­day at Tweed-New Haven Air­port, and was joined by New Haven Mayor Toni Harp and Tim Lar­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the air­port.

Harp said the shut­down — the re­sult of what she called an “ob­sti­nate Oval Of­fice” — is rip­pling into the com­mu­nity, hit­ting busi­nesses pa­tron­ized by fed­eral em­ploy­ees.

“It’s a real life prob­lem for the lo­cal busi­nesses where these fam­i­lies would oth­er­wise do their shop­ping,” Harp said.

Mur­phy dis­missed Trump’s threat to de­clare a na­tional emer­gency to se­cure money for the bor­der wall.

“I don’t think the courts will al­low him to do that be­cause it would be il­le­gal and un­con­sti­tu­tional to try to break a leg­isla­tive stale­mate by declar­ing a na­tional emer­gency,” Mur­phy said.

Den­nis Amato, a vet­eran elec­tron­ics tech­ni­cian at Tweed, said Jan­uary is a tough month for his house­hold when tal­ly­ing up the bills that must be paid.

“Our taxes for the home are due this month,” said Amato, 62. “It’s a heavy month be­tween taxes and in­sur­ance, so I have an out­lay of $7,500 that I have to cover this month.”

As Mur­phy crit­i­cized the shut­down in New Haven, U.S. Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal met with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from a dozen craft brew­eries around the state to learn how the shut­down was af­fect­ing their busi­nesses.

The ef­fect on the grow­ing craft brew busi­ness is the re­sult of the clo­sure of the fed­eral Al­co­hol and To­bacco Tax and Trade Bu­reau, a lit­tle-known agency that is re­spon­si­ble for sign­ing off on ev­ery­thing from ap­pli­ca­tions for new brew­eries to ap­prov­ing new la­bels and recipes with un­usual in­gre­di­ents for craft beers. With­out those ap­provals, brew­ers can’t launch new prod­ucts — some of which are al­ready in tanks be­ing brewed.

Asked what mes­sage he wanted to con­vey to the pres­i­dent and Repub­li­can lead­er­ship, Blu­men­thal said he wanted them to un­der­stand that “it’s not just af­fect­ing fed­eral em­ploy­ees.”

“It’s pro­hibit­ing busi­nesses from in­no­va­tion and eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties,” Blu­men­thal said.

In Dan­bury, at the Fed­eral Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion, An­drew Ue­ber­roth, pres­i­dent of AFGE Lo­cal 1661, which rep­re­sents 259 cor­rec­tion of­fi­cers, teach­ers, cooks, nurses and other work­ers at the Fed­eral Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion at Dan­bury, said em­ploy­ees are con­sid­ered es­sen­tial and must re­port to work.

Union mem­bers have told him that they ex­pect to run out of money in the next cou­ple of weeks and will start look­ing for part-time work.

Pat Wynne, a cor­rec­tion of­fi­cer, said he’s dig­ging into sav­ings but, at least so far, avoid­ing tap­ping his 401(k) re­tire­ment ac­count or bor­row­ing money on his credit card.

On Fri­day nights, he said, he and his wife usu­ally go to a movie and a restau­rant but this Fri­day, “it’s sand­wiches and Net­flix,” he said.

Wynne, a 12-year em­ployee at the prison and an of­fi­cer of the gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees union, com­mutes more than 80 miles a day from his home in Ham­den. As a re­sult, he’s pay­ing to work for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, he said.

“It’s al­ways in my mind,” Wynne said. “How am I go­ing to cover the mort­gage? How am I go­ing to make the car pay­ment?”

At Bradley, Mur­phy and Ro­mano say they are com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing safe travel for air pas­sen­gers but ad­mit that work­ing for free has taken a hit on morale. They will be paid, even­tu­ally, for the hours they have worked dur­ing the shut­down but there is no telling when that will hap­pen.

“There’s the off per­son say­ing, ‘Well, don’t worry, you’re go­ing to get paid even­tu­ally,’” Mur­phy said. “But I wanted to ask that in­di­vid­ual: How­would you feel if I told you, ‘I want you to work and I’ll pay you even­tu­ally. I’m not go­ing to tell you when.’ How do you pay your bills and your taxes? How do you sur­vive? How do you get to sleep at night and feel com­fort­able?”

Courant Staff Writ­ers Stephen Singer and Steven Goode con­trib­uted to this story. A re­port from the As­so­ci­ated Press was in­cluded.

Con­tact Ken­neth R. Gosselin at kgos­[email protected]

PA­TRICK RAYCRAFT/HART­FORD COURANT

“We’re here to keep the air­ways safe,” says fed­eral em­ployee Den­nis Amato, 62, of Guil­ford, about his job in land­ing sys­tems and elec­tron­ics at Tweed-New Haven Air­port. Amato has con­tin­ued to work with­out a pay­check and is one of thirty em­ploy­ees at Tweed af­fected by the shut­down.

MARK MIRKO/HART­FORD COURANT

Curt Cameron, left, of Hooker Brew­ery talks with Con­necti­cut Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal be­fore a press con­fer­ence dis­cussing the pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion de­lays re­sult­ing from the shut­down of the fed­eral agen­cies that over­see their op­er­a­tions.

PA­TRICK RAYCRAFT/HART­FORD COURANT

“There’s no rea­son we should be in this sit­u­a­tion,” says Sen. Chris Mur­phy on the 21st day of the par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down on Fri­day. Mur­phy was joined New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, from left, fed­eral worker Den­nis Amato, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of Tweed-New Haven Air­port Au­thor­ity Tim Lar­son, and air­port man­ager Jeremy Niel­son for a press con­fer­ence at Tweed-New Haven Re­gional Air­port to dis­cuss the shut­down’s im­pact.

Ja­nine Mur­phy

Andy Ro­mano

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