Work­ers un­paid af­ter shut­down dread what’s next

Most to be paid this week, but dead­line looms Fri­day

The Detroit News - - NEWS - BY MICHELLE R. SMITH As­so­ci­ated Press

More than two weeks af­ter the end of the long­est gov­ern­ment shut­down in U.S his­tory, many fed­eral work­ers still have not re­ceived their back pay or have only got­ten a frac­tion of what they are owed as gov­ern­ment agen­cies strug­gle with pay­roll glitches and other de­lays.

And even as they scram­ble to catch up on un­paid bills and to re­pay un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits, the prospect of an­other shut­down looms next week.

“Pres­i­dent Trump stood in the Rose Gar­den at the end of the shut­down and said, ‘We will make sure that you guys are paid im­me­di­ately.’ … And here it is, it’s al­most two weeks later,” said Michael Wal­ter, who works for the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture food safety in­spec­tion ser­vice in John­stown, Penn­syl­va­nia, and only got his pay­check Wed­nes­day. He said two co-work­ers told him they still had re­ceived noth­ing.

The gov­ern­ment has been short on de­tails about how many peo­ple are wait­ing to be paid.

Bradley Bishop, a spokesman for the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get, said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion had taken “un­prece­dented steps to en­sure fed­eral em­ploy­ees im­pacted by the shut­down re­ceived back pay within a week.”

The USDA said in a state­ment that pay was its top pri­or­ity. Asked to con­firm that some peo­ple hadn’t been paid, USDA spokes­woman Amanda Heitkamp replied, “I’m not sure.”

Donna Zelina’s hus­band works for the Bureau of In­dian Af­fairs in South Dakota. He has re­ceived only a por­tion of his back pay, and does not ex­pect to be fully paid un­til Tues­day.

Zelina said she called her cred­i­tors, but they wouldn’t work with her. Her hus­band’s car loan went into for­bear­ance, caus­ing them to rack up fees. “I don’t think peo­ple re­ally un­der­stand what peo­ple do in gov­ern­ment and just as­sume that every­body … makes mil­lions of dol­lars,” she said.

A spokesman for the Depart­ment of In­te­rior, which han­dles pay­roll for more than five dozen gov­ern­ment of­fices, did not an­swer when asked how many work­ers were due back pay, but said a “small group of em­ploy­ees” had not re­ceived any­thing.

The Cen­sus Bureau ac­knowl­edged Wed­nes­day that about 850 em­ploy­ees na­tion­wide have yet to re­ceive back pay or have only got­ten a frac­tion of what they’re owed. A spokesman said they ex­pected most of those work­ers to be paid by Fri­day.

Other af­fected agen­cies in­clude the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion, where two unions rep­re­sent­ing FAA work­ers said their mem­bers had not yet re­ceived all of their back pay.

Doug Church of the Na­tional Air Traf­fic Con­trollers As­so­ci­a­tion said mem­bers who worked dur­ing the shut­down had not got­ten over­time, which he said was a vi­o­la­tion of the Fair La­bor Stan­dards Act.

David Ver­ardo, a union lo­cal pres­i­dent, said he was still owed $2,000 and es­ti­mated that the 1,000 work­ers his union rep­re­sents at the Na­tional Sci­ence Foun­da­tion in Alexan­dria, Vir­ginia, are each due be­tween $1,200 and $3,000.

In ad­di­tion to the pay de­lays, work­ers are strug­gling with is­sues like nav­i­gat­ing the bureau­cracy of pay­ing back un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits and the loom­ing ques­tion of whether there would be an­other shut­down af­ter Feb. 15.

Tr­ish Bink­ley, a tax ex­am­iner at the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice in Kansas City, Mis­souri, is set­ting aside money, in­clud­ing her tax re­fund and an emer­gency loan she got, in case of an­other shut­down.

She re­ceived two un­em­ploy­ment checks of $288 each dur­ing the shut­down be­fore get­ting a let­ter in­form­ing her she was in­el­i­gi­ble for the ben­e­fits – even though she had been told she qual­i­fied. Bink­ley has paid the money back.

She and oth­ers have grown frus­trated at see­ing so­cial me­dia posts that down­played the im­pact of the shut­down.

“This was not a va­ca­tion. Va­ca­tions are sup­posed to be fun and re­lax­ing. You have money to go do fun things or what­ever. This was one of the most stress­ful pe­ri­ods of my life,” Bink­ley said.

The shut­down mo­ti­vated Ch­eryl Inzunza Blum to re-eval­u­ate her ca­reer as a gov­ern­ment con­tract lawyer rep­re­sent­ing im­mi­grants in fed­eral court in Tuc­son, Ari­zona. She has not been paid since be­fore the shut­down be­gan.

She en­rolled in an on­line course in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at Har­vard Ex­ten­sion School.

“I did it be­cause I don’t want to go through this again,” she said. “I want to carve out an­other ca­reer, I re­ally do.”



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