Fed­eral work­ers raise fears with law­mak­ers

The Detroit News - - METRO - BY SARAH RAHAL The Detroit News

Ro­mu­lus — Michi­gan’s con­gres­sional Democrats con­vened a sit-down Fri­day with fed­eral work­ers fac­ing wage losses in the midst of what threat­ens to be the long­est gov­ern­ment shutdown in the na­tion’s his­tory.

U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, DBloom­field Town­ship, joined Reps. Deb­bie Din­gell, D-Dear­born, Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, for in­ti­mate con­ver­sa­tion with fed­eral em­ploy­ees at the Detroit Metropoli­tan Air­port. U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, ar­rived later and spoke briefly with re­porters.

The law­mak­ers heard per­sonal sto­ries from Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion agents, mem­bers of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Gov­ern­ment Em­ploy­ees and National Trea­sury Em­ploy­ees Union as well as alarm­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns from National Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion and United States En­vi­ron­men­tal Agency work­ers.

“We have over 820,000 work­ers who are not get­ting paid or work­ing with­out pay since Dec. 22 and today, is pay­less pay­day,” Levin said.

There are more than 5,200 fed­eral work­ers who are fur­loughed or work­ing with­out pay in Michi­gan.

Na­tion­wide, 420,000 fed­eral em­ploy­ees are work­ing with­out pay and more than 400,000 fed­eral work­ers have been fur­loughed, Levin said.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has been at odds with Democrats over his $5.7 bil­lion plan for a


bor­der wall and

Trump cam­paigned on the bor­der wall as a means of com­bat­ing il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, hu­man traf­fick­ing and drug ac­tiv­ity. The pres­i­dent has called the move “com­mon sense” and threat­ened to de­clare a national emer­gency in an at­tempt to by­pass con­gres­sional ap­proval in the case that he can’t reach a deal with Democrats.

Democrats op­pose Trump’s pro­posed wall or steel bar­rier, with some of­fi­cials calling it in­ef­fec­tive or im­moral.

“There’s no real emer­gency on the bor­der,” Levin said Fri­day. “Just be­cause some­one says ‘I want this’ doesn’t mean we are go­ing to do it.”

Many fed­eral work­ers are grap­pling with fi­nan­cial uncer­tainty as the shutdown drags into its third week. Morale at the air­port, they noted Fri­day, has been lower than ever.

“I took my fam­ily to a food bank the other day to make my money last longer and am hold­ing out un­til the shutdown ends,” said Wanavia Wil­son, lead TSA of­fi­cer at Detroit Metro. “Morale is ex­tremely low, lower than I’ve ever seen, and peo­ple are quit­ting.


fund­ing. We had four quit yesterday and two quit last week.”

Din­gell, dur­ing the ses­sion, said the Sen­ate voted 98-2 prior to Christ­mas to fund the gov­ern­ment and ex­tend home­land se­cu­rity to Fe­bru­ary. On Jan. 3, in an iden­ti­cal vote, “the pres­i­dent wouldn’t sign it,” she said.

Gre­gory Simp­kins, a TSA of­fi­cer at Detroit Metro and pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Gov­ern­ment Em­ploy­ees for Lo­cal 778 union, which rep­re­sents 17 air­ports, said the shutdown is threat­en­ing safety, since agents are not as fo­cused on their work.

“It’s hard to be laser fo­cus when we’re wor­ried about how we’re go­ing to pay our bills, child­care, rent needs to be paid and it’s hard,” he said.

Dave Fanslow, pres­i­dent of AFGE Lo­cal 3908 rep­re­sent­ing NOAA Great Lakes En­vi­ron­men­tal Re­search Lab in Ann Ar­bor, said work­ers are feel­ing per­sonal im­pacts of the shutdown but are more wor­ried about en­vi­ron­men­tal ef­fects.

Fanslow’s lab mon­i­tors the wa­ter cir­cu­la­tion in the Straits of Mack­inac and stands ready in the event of an emer­gency re­sponse for En­bridge’s con­tro­ver­sial Line 5 oil pipe­line. The su­per­com­puter they use to mon­i­tor Line 5 has been shut down since Dec. 22, he said.

The shutdown is also ad­versely af­fect­ing winter weather fore­casts that the ship­ping in­dus­try re­lies on and that data will not be re­cov­ered when the gov­ern­ment re­opens.

“A leak in Line 5 would be cat­a­strophic ei­ther way, but we can trace where the oil is mov­ing and where it sur­faces with the model work­ing, but with­out it work­ing is im­pos­si­ble,” said Fanslow, who has worked for NOAA for 26 years.

NOAA is also not ac­cept­ing, cal­cu­lat­ing or fore­cast­ing ice data, which the ship­ping in­dus­try re­lies on, he said.

“We can’t project what the ice is go­ing to be in Fe­bru­ary and March if we’re not col­lect­ing data, tem­per­a­tures and me­te­o­rol­ogy right now,” Fanslow said. “When the com­puter is turned back on, that in­for­ma­tion is go­ing to be lost for­ever be­cause it wasn’t tracked.”

Jen­nifer Dziendziel and her hus­band have both worked at the air­port for more than 10 years and said there isn’t a pay­check com­ing into their house­hold.

“I have pre­scrip­tions that are not go­ing to get filled,” said Dziendziel of South­gate. “A co­worker told me she was forced to choose be­tween gas to get to work and buy­ing her in­sulin. These are sit­u­a­tions that none of us should be in.”

The Detroit News

TSA agents say the fed­eral shutdown is threat­en­ing safety.

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