AFGE and allies organized hundreds of furloughed employees for a protest at the Hart Senate Office Building Jan. 23 to speak out against the longest government shutdown and demand that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell immediately reopen the government. It was part of a pressure campaign of AFGE members and our allies across the nation that helped end the longest shutdown in U.S. history.
“Occupy Hart” protesters were at the Hart building to draw attention to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s failure to do his job and end the shutdown that had created financial chaos for 800,000 federal employees and their families.
As federal employees were poised to miss their second paycheck Jan. 25, McConnell, who had been AWOL since Trump took our government hostage, had failed to use the power that the Framers gave Congress to override a president’s veto if the president refuses their bills.
At the Hart Building, we stood in silence for 33 minutes – one for each day of the shutdown which began Dec. 22 and dragged on to its fifth week Jan. 21.
As we were not allowed to bring protest signs into the building, we wrote our messages on empty plates, symbolizing the hundreds of thousands of federal workers who were unable to buy groceries to feed their families because of the lapse in pay. Workers wrote messages like “Hostage,” “Will work for pay,” “Pay the workers,” “Do your job!” “Please let us work,” and “I love TSA. Pay them!”
Furloughed workers explained to reporters how they couldn’t pay rent, mortgages, food, and other bills because of the shutdown. Some expressed disbelief that they were being held hostage for something that had nothing to do with their work.
“I think we’re being used as pawns,” NASA employee Blake Lorenz told reporters. “What does me doing my job at NASA have to do with a wall?”
Twelve union leaders and allies, including our very own AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. and Political Director Tucker McDonald, were arrested outside McConnell’s office as they refused to leave without meeting McConnell. “Where is Mitch?,” they chanted, highlighting the role he played as a co-conspirator in the shutdown.
Protesters also visited several senators’ offices to pressure them to immediately open the government.
See the Occupy Hart photos here.
Feds still protesting across the country
Besides the main “empty plates rally” at the Hart building, AFGE members and federal workers continued to rally in their hometown to call on the Trump administration and Congress to reopen the government. In Kentucky, furloughed workers and allies gathered at McConnell’s field office in Lexington with signs that read “Tell McConnell to Give Us a Vote!”
Employees from the TSA, Department of Interior, Census Bureau, and Veterans Affairs participated in the protest, which was organized by AFGE.
In St. Louis, Missouri, AFGE members and allies lined the sidewalk in front of the Federal Center to call for an end to the shutdown that has devastated their finances. “Stop the shutdown! We want to work!” they chanted.
In Jacksonville, Florida, AFGE members and allies gathered downtown chanting “End the shutdown, call the vote!” Furloughed workers took turns telling their stories about how the shutdown has affected them and their families. In addition to AFGE, members from more than 10 unions participated, including teachers, electricians, and Teamsters.
Correctional officers put pressure on McConnell in Kentucky
AFGE Council of Prison Locals, which represents over 33,000 federal correctional workers nationwide, took out a series of billboards in Kentucky highlighting the damaging effects the longest government shutdown in U.S. history had on law enforcement and holding Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky accountable for his role in the standoff.
McConnell’s stronghold has five federal facilities in the state - two are United States Penitentiaries.
“A federal prison is already a dangerous and stressful working environment,“ said AFGE Council of Prison Locals President Eric Young. “Now, our members are being required to work mandatory overtime without pay. They’re working 16-hour shifts, worrying about how they’ll be able to pay their rent or mortgage, put gas in the car, afford child care or keep the heat on. It’s a recipe for disaster in an environment where fatigue and distraction could cost you your life.”
The billboards were placed at strategic points along major highways in Kentucky. They feature informational messages about the pain this shutdown is causing federal correctional workers and a call for Mitch McConnell to end the shutdown by bringing H.R. 21 to a vote on the floor of the Senate.
Federal correctional workers – nearly a third of whom are military veterans – are among the government’s lowest paid law enforcement officers, bringing home $500 to $700 a week. Nearly all have been deemed essential and are working without pay – even as the prison inmates they supervise get paid for the jobs they do.
Shutdown ends, for now
The coordinated efforts of AFGE members and our allies in the labor movement and beyond helped bring this standoff to an end with a temporary funding measure that reopened the government through February 15.
But Congress must act soon to make sure this doesn’t happen again in three weeks.
“While reopening the government is long overdue, I will not celebrate a temporary reprieve to a politically motivated crisis that has left many federal employees in anguish over how to pay their bills, feed their families, and keep a roof over their heads,” said AFGE national president J. David Cox Sr.
“Over the next three weeks, Congress must pass full-year appropriations for all government agencies as well legislation to make all affected federal employees whole. We are also urging Congress to act to prevent the use of shutdowns from ever occurring again.”