Pay­less pay­day for feds

Gov­ern­ment shutdown matches record as work­ers go with­out wages

The News-Times - - FRONT PAGE - This story in­cludes reports from Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia staff writer Bill Cum­mings, CT News Junkie, The CT Mir­ror and As­so­ci­ated Press.

Pay­day came and went with­out pay on Fri­day for Rob Cur­nan and 261 other cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers at the Fed­eral Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion in Dan­bury, as the fed­eral shutdown that started Dec. 22 marked 21 days — match­ing the na­tion’s long­est gov­ern­ment shutdown, from De­cem­ber 1995 to Jan­uary 1996.

“Peo­ple are wor­ried,” said Cur­nan, a union ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent at the prison. “They are say­ing this could last months or years. We have a lot of sin­gle-in­come em­ploy­ees.”

It’s lit­tle so­lace for now that both houses of Congress passed res­o­lu­tions say­ing the roughly 800,000 af­fected fed­eral em­ploy­ees

— some on fur­lough, some forced to work with de­ferred pay — will even­tu­ally re­ceive back pay. On top of money woes, the of­fi­cers worry about the re­ac­tion of in­mates in the medium-se­cu­rity prison as the prison em­ploy­ees are forced to work with­out pay.

“In­mates know this. They look to take ad­van­tage,” Cur­nan said. “We are look­ing for in­creased vi­o­lence.”

Con­cern, anger and frus­tra­tion mounted in ev­ery cor­ner of the coun­try Fri­day as Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., went home with no end to the stand­off in sight. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, hold­ing out for $5.7 bil­lion for a wall on the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der, ap­peared will­ing, some would say even ea­ger, to see the out­age of all non-es­sen­tial fed­eral ser­vices last for months.

Sens. Chris Mur­phy and Richard Blu­men­thal, both D-Conn., did what they could to sup­port fed­eral em­ploy­ees at Tweed-New Haven Air­port and brew­ers in Bloom­field un­able to gain li­censes to ex­pand.

“We will keep work­ing to re­open the gov­ern­ment,” Blu­men­thal said, but Congress has made lit­tle progress.

Brew­ing frus­tra­tion

In Hartford, a fed­eral hous­ing of­fi­cial had been help­ing dozens of fam­i­lies move from a ver­min- and mold-in­fested pub­lic hous­ing project to new, safe, af­ford­able homes un­til the shutdown. But the U.S. De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment is idled, leav­ing the ten­ants in the lurch.

“There’s no one to help them now,” said Erin Kem­ple, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Con­necti­cut Fair Hous­ing Cen­ter.

Jorge Perez, com­mis­sioner of the state De­part­ment of Bank­ing, issued a state­ment “ask­ing fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions to con­sider ‘pru­dent’ work­outs for ex­ist­ing loans and ex­tend­ing new credit to help bor­row­ers un­able to gain credit through shut­tered fed­eral fi­nan­cial agen­cies.

“These ef­forts on the part of fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions will not be sub­ject to ex­am­iner crit­i­cism,” the de­part­ment said.

Perez urged con­sumers to work with their fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions while the shutdown af­fects loan ap­provals and credit reports.

“Don’t wait,” Perez said. “I am en­cour­ag­ing all in­sti­tu­tions to do their best to as­sist their cus­tomers dur­ing this try­ing time.”

In Bloom­field, at the Thomas Hooker Brew­ery, Michael Hasel­tine said he and his wife were set to open the state’s lat­est craft beer brew­ery in Bris­tol, prob­a­bly in April.

All that was left to do was ob­tain the re­quired fed­eral li­cense, la­bel ap­proval and other pa­per­work from the lit­tle-known Al­co­hol and To­bacco Tax and Trade Bureau. But that’s not hap­pen­ing any­time soon.

“It’s keep­ing us from open­ing the doors,” said Hasel­tine, owner of Bet­ter Half Brew­ing. “There is no one to even talk to.”

The brew­ers, meet­ing with Blu­men­thal, all said their new prod­uct lines are in limbo. Brew­eries con­stantly change their prod­ucts and the fed­eral agency makes sure la­bels are ac­cu­rate and stan­dards are met.

Curt Cameron, pres­i­dent of the Hooker Brew­ery, said his spring line may not be put out be­cause of the shutdown.

“It’s frus­trat­ing,” Cameron said. “I shud­der to think what the back­log will be when the gov­ern­ment re­opens. We have two now (await­ing) la­bel ap­proval.”

Cameron and other brew­ers said the holdup af­fects their en­tire op­er­a­tion, say­ing the large chrome ket­tles where beer is made have to re­main full un­til la­bel ap­proval ar­rives, which means the next beer can­not be brewed.

“We need to re­open the gov­ern­ment so these guys can sell their prod­uct,” Blu­men­thal said, not­ing the large national brew­ers are bet­ter able to with­stand de­lays than smaller craft brew­ers like Hooker.

Manuel Ro­driguez, owner of the Stony Creek Brew­ery in Bran­ford, said he plans new beers months be­fore of­fer­ing them to cus­tomers. “This holdup is a ma­jor prob­lem,” he said.

Hostage work­ers

Blu­men­thal said Democrats in the House have passed in­di­vid­ual bills to open the branches of the gov­ern­ment with­out fund­ing for the bor­der wall that Trump de­mands.

“The bills are on the floor, let us vote on them and put the pres­i­dent to the test,” Blu­men­thal said.

The pres­i­dent is con­sid­er­ing declar­ing a national emer­gency and us­ing ex­ist­ing fund­ing re­served for dis­as­ter re­lief or the mil­i­tary to build the wall. Democrats and oth­ers have vowed to chal­lenge that dec­la­ra­tion in court, say­ing there is no cri­sis that war­rants an emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion.

At Tweed air­port, 30 em­ploy­ees are among the work­ers who have gone with­out pay­checks for three weeks.

“He can’t con­tinue to use these em­ploy­ees as hostages,” said Mur­phy, who was joined by New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, out­go­ing Tweed ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Tim­o­thy Lar­son and air­way trans­porta­tion spe­cial­ist Den­nis Amato.

“We are grate­ful that we have se­cu­rity per­son­nel who are con­tin­u­ing to work with­out pay,” Mur­phy said, but he added, “They need to get paid. They need to find jobs, even tem­po­rary ones, to put food on the ta­ble.”

He re­ferred to Mi­ami In­ter­na­tional Air­port’s plans to close one of its ter­mi­nals this week­end due to staffing short­ages. A Mi­ami air­port spokesman told the Mi­ami Her­ald that one of the ter­mi­nals will be closed as of 1 p.m. Satur­day.

Amato, a 30-year in­dus­try em­ployee, said work­ing for no money is a bit eas­ier for a vet­eran like him­self.

“I’m wor­ried about the younger guys,” he said. “The peo­ple who have fam­i­lies, have bills to be paid. They’re go­ing to have to be tak­ing out loans.”

At the Dan­bury prison, Cur­nan, the cor­rec­tions of­fi­cer, said in­mates earn­ing up to $1 an hour are still be­ing paid.

“They are mak­ing more than we are,” he noted.

As for him­self, he said, “My wife works but our pay is cut in half . ... We bud­get for two in­comes and now we have to pick and choose what bills to pay.”

He added, “The gov­ern­ment sent out let­ters ex­plain­ing the shutdown, but cred­i­tors don’t want to hear that. We have peo­ple with new ba­bies in the house. They are hold­ing our pay­checks hostage.”

Rob Cur­nan, cor­rec­tions of­fi­cer at FCI in Dan­bury

“The gov­ern­ment sent out let­ters ex­plain­ing the shutdown, but cred­i­tors don’t want to hear that. We have peo­ple with new ba­bies in the house. They are hold­ing our pay­checks hostage.”

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