Work­ing with­out pay while be­ing squeezed

San Francisco Chronicle - - BAY AREA - San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle colum­nist Otis R. Tay­lor Jr. ap­pears Mon­days and Thurs­days. Email: otay­[email protected]­i­ Twit­ter: @otis­r­tay­lorjr

It’s hard to go to work when you know you’re not get­ting paid.

That’s how Lester Har­ris feels. The Oak­land na­tive, who’s worked for the Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion at Oak­land In­ter­na­tional Air­port for 14 years, didn’t get paid last week be­cause of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment shut­down.

Still, he’s been ex­pected to re­port for his shifts screen­ing trav­el­ers.

“We’re still there, which is good for the trav­el­ing Amer­i­can pub­lic, but it’s not good for us,” he said. “I’m spend­ing

money to get to work ... burn­ing through sup­plies that you no longer have a way of re­plen­ish­ing.”

Har­ris, 35, isn’t the only fed­eral em­ployee in his fam­ily feel­ing his pock­ets squeezed by the shut­down.

He rents a room from his un­cle, whose wife works for the IRS. Har­ris said his fa­ther and his wife, as well as his mother and her hus­band, also work for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. So does one of his brothers. His fi­ancee is a TSA agent, like him.

Har­ris shared his story Satur­day morn­ing at Red Bay Cof­fee in East Oak­land, when he met with Demo­cratic Rep. Bar­bara Lee of Oak­land. She sat down with Har­ris and three other con­stituents for a nearly hour-long dis­cus­sion about how the shut­down is af­fect­ing them.

Har­ris said he has TSA friends who can’t af­ford to make the 40-mile drive from Pitts­burg to the air­port.

“Now you don’t have money to fill up your car two or three times a week so you have to stay home,” said Har­ris, who is look­ing for an­other job.

He told me he ap­plied for work at Safe­way be­fore driv­ing to meet Lee. He can’t bor­row money from fam­ily, be­cause they’re in the same predica­ment.

Har­ris was joined by Chad Davis-Mont­gomery, Jeanne Hen­der­son and Bethany Drey­fus. They talked about rents and mort­gages, car loans, credit scores and de­pleted sav­ings ac­counts while Lee took notes. Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est Fed­eral Re­serve re­port on the eco­nomic well-be­ing of Amer­i­cans, about 4 in 10 adults don’t have enough money saved to with­stand a $400 emer­gency ex­pense.

This ridicu­lous shut­down has cre­ated an emer­gency for hun­dreds of thou­sands of Amer­i­cans.

Davis-Mont­gomery, 37, is ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer for the San Fran­cisco dis­trict of the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion. He pro­vides sup­port to con­sumer safety of­fi­cers who per­form food, drug and med­i­cal de­vice in­spec­tions from Hawaii to Ne­vada.

Nor­mal pre­ven­tive in­spec­tions aren’t hap­pen­ing dur­ing the shut­down.

“And that’s a huge safety net for our food and drug sup­ply in our coun­try,” Davis-Mont­gomery said.

“It’s not ac­cept­able for us not to be do­ing the work that needs to be done,” said Drey­fus, an En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency em­ployee and lo­cal pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Gov­ern­ment Em­ploy­ees union.

We should all be con­cerned. Sure, it’s safe to eat ro­maine let­tuce again, but what about the in­spec­tions to pre­vent an­other E. coli out­break? If this shut­down was re­ally about pub­lic safety, peo­ple like Dav­isMont­gomery would be work­ing.

“These ser­vices are crit­i­cal, and peo­ple don’t re­late what you do to their daily lives,” Lee told the group. “It is so im­por­tant.”

Pub­lic safety is be­ing held hostage by a law-and-or­der pres­i­dent who be­lieves he’s above the law. He in­cites fear by claim­ing there’s an il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion cri­sis at our south­ern bor­ders but, ac­cord­ing to U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion, il­le­gal bor­der cross­ings have been de­clin­ing for nearly two decades.

The pres­i­dent’s de­mand for $5.7 bil­lion in wall fund­ing is the ran­som he wants tax­pay­ers to pay to open the gov­ern­ment and stroke his deal-mak­ing ego. Just imag­ine how much greater this coun­try would be if that money were spent on hous­ing or ed­u­ca­tion.

Davis-Mont­gomery missed his first pay­check Fri­day. Now he’s con­cerned how he and his hus­band will con­tinue to pay for their one-bed­room apart­ment in Jack Lon­don Square. Rent is more than $3,000, and the land­lord will want the money no mat­ter how long the shut­down per­sists.

Hen­der­son, who kept the mood light with her quips, sug­gested that top gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the pres­i­dent, should also not be paid. When Lee told her the pres­i­dent chooses not to col­lect a pay­check, Hen­der­son replied, “Well, if he’d like he can send me his golden sink, and I’ll cash that.”

The pres­i­dent, who walked away from a bi­par­ti­san deal in De­cem­ber that would have pro­vided $1.6 bil­lion for his wall ef­forts, has said the shut­down could last for months.

“That’s a dic­ta­tor com­ment,” Hen­der­son said.

“Well, he’s sup­posed to be a pres­i­dent, but when you look at ev­ery­thing that he has done, this democ­racy is pretty frag­ile right now,” Lee re­sponded. “It’s a very defin­ing mo­ment for this coun­try.”

Har­ris said the pres­i­dent and his ad­min­is­tra­tion are out of touch with every­day cit­i­zens, peo­ple like him who still go to work, even though they don’t know when they’ll get their next pay­check.

“It re­ally feels like a be­trayal that I still come in, and I’m do­ing my best ev­ery day, but you don’t seem to ac­tu­ally care that I’m hurt­ing, that I’m in a tough spot,” he said.

Jes­sica Chris­tian / The Chron­i­cle

Rep. Bar­bara Lee, D-Oak­land (left), asks FDA worker Chad Davis-Mont­gomery and EPA em­ployee Bethan Drey­fus how the shut­down has hurt them.

Jes­sica Chris­tian / The Chron­i­cle

Rep. Bar­bara Lee (third from left) meets with Lester Har­ris (left), Jeanne Hen­der­son, Chad Dav­isMont­gomery and Bethany Drey­fus, all fed­eral em­ploy­ees af­fected by the shut­down.

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