The Shutdown Circus

Federal employees deal with government shutdown, community offers some relief

On the 2016 campaign trail, some former workers claimed then-candidate Donald Trump never paid them. Today, federal government workers can say the same.

Regardless of the long “vacation” the government shutdown has provided nonessential employees, being away from the office has put a strain on their lives. However, the Eugene-area community has offered something of a reprieve for those impacted by the shutdown — even if it’s just a free basketball game or discounted YMCA memberships.

As of press time, the shutdown is still going on. For those who are working without a paycheck, like TSA agents at the Eugene airport, quitting could result in a large inconvenience for those relying on their employment.

This isn’t the first government shutdown that Wade Judy has experienced. He’s worked within the U.S. Department of the Interior for more than 17 years.

Because he’s worked for the federal government for so long, he’s established a buffer to keep him and his family comfortable in the case of a shutdown.

What concerns him, though, is the day he returns to his office and  sees the stack of papers he has to deal with.

“It’s going to be difficult for some of us for that first day to triage and figure out what we can do,” he says.

Keeping up on the shutdown news does get old, Judy says. However, he says it’s important to be optimistic and hope for a quick solution so he can get back to work.

Robert Pennington served in the U.S. Army as a medic, so he, too, has experience wondering whether he’d get paid during past shutdowns.

He says every time a budget was debated in Congress while he was in the Army, he wondered whether it would affect his paycheck.

This time around, Pennington had a nine-month temporary job with the U.S. Forest Service. Before the appointment was over, it was clear that the government shutdown was looming. So his field office issued a layoff notice to him, so he could file for unemployment.

“My last two days of work everything came to a halt. Everybody was like, ‘Well, no point in starting something now,’” he says.

Because of the shutdown, Pennington says not being able to finish his seasonal work with the USFS set him back in pursuing work with the federal government.

He says he’s applying for graduate school, but he’s unsure whether he can rely on his GI Bill to pay tuition.

As of now, GI Bill is covering tuition for veterans attending University of Oregon, according to Jenifer Fendelander, veterans benefits specialist at the UO Office of the Registrar. The VA fully paid for the 2019 fiscal year. Students using their VA education benefit will also receive their monthly housing allowance at the end of the month.

What both Judy and Pennington have in common is that they went to the YMCA to take advantage of a deal provided to federal employees impacted by the shutdown.

The Eugene YMCA made a local decision to waive the sign-on fee for federal employees, as well as half off of membership fees for up to three months.

The YMCA is not the only organization to offer some sort of reprieve. Among other local offers, the Oregon women’s basketball team has free admission for two games, the Eugene Science Center is giving a free membership for January and Autobahn Imports Eugene currently provides free oil changes for furloughed employees.

The city of Eugene provided free lunch for its airport employees on the day they should’ve seen a paycheck.

“The city catered some food because we knew it would be a tough day,” says Andrew Martz, airport services manager.

The city didn’t provide the employees with “hamberders.” Instead, they brought in pasta, bread and drinks, he says.

Delta Airlines provided another day of food for the airport’s federal employees.

Because TSA employees are federal, there are some guidelines that must be followed to circumvent any notion that the meals are a gift. The food has to be hot and ready to eat.

The Eugene airport hasn’t experienced any absences from staff who are ruled essential and must work without a paycheck.

Martz says that TSA has been at full staff and the air traffic control may have a short staff with its nonessential employees.

The median hourly wage for TSA agents is $19.51, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor. Martz says that many of the TSA employees are working paycheck to paycheck.

If a TSA employee walks out to find a job with a paycheck, the job would not be filled until the shutdown is over because each employee has to undergo special training.

“There is a process where there is a training period. You can’t just take someone off the street and plunk them in,” he says. “If people don’t show up for TSA, there really is no replacement other than other TSA agents, but they’re struggling with the same thing.”

If TSA employees begin to feel the crunch of no paycheck and stop showing up, it’ll have an impact on the airport and could mean longer security waits and urging passengers to check baggage.

“Longer lines at TSA, longer waits for passengers to get through,” he says. “And we’ve already discussed with the airlines if that starts to happen, informing passengers beforehand that you need to be here earlier.”

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