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Heading Back To Work, Furloughed Federal Workers Remain Cautious About The Future

January 26, 2019

By Joe Maniscalco

New York, NY – EPA environmental engineer Anthony Tseng was inside the Downtown Community Television Center on Lafayette Street in Manhattan on Friday night, along with friends and colleagues cautiously celebrating the end of the longest government shutdown in U.S history, when he got an email confirming that he and his co-workers would, in fact, finally be returning to work on Monday. 

After a month out of work, furloughed EPA engineer Anthony Tseng can only manage “reserved optimism” going forward.

“If this happened in private practice…if there was a company that was laying off 10-percent…15-percent of their employees or telling them to go home and come back — I don’t think that corporation would be viewed very highly,” the father of two told LaborPress. “But the government doing that…I think there’s a certain double standard here. I definitely feel in terms of corporate ethics, President Trump is the CEO of the company — and he has a moral responsibility to all the employees.”

After more than a month sidelined without pay while Donald Trump tried his damnedest to blackmail Congress into giving him billions of dollars to build a “big, beautiful” border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, few federal employees appear confident they won’t be out of work once again after the new deal to reopen the government expires in three weeks. 

“This continuing resolution is not a full-year’s budget and we may end up in the same place again,” Tseng said. “Since we’re already breaking records now, it’s not off the table that we won’t break another record on the next [government shutdown].”

This continuing resolution is not a full-year’s budget and we may end up in the same place again. — EPA Engineer Anthony Tseng.

Franco DiCroce, head of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers [IFPTE], Local 98, put the chances of that happening at about “50-50.”

“We shouldn’t have to pay for politics and not being able to compromise, or come to an agreement in Washington,” DiCroce told LaborPress on Friday night. “That’s their job — we pay these people to pass laws. The budget is part of the law. They should just get that done and get it solved. Some people don’t want to do that — and that’s a little bit of childish behavior.”

According to Tseng, morale inside the Environmental Protection Agency was already suffering before Trump’s government shutdown hit over a month ago. The  ensuing 35 days has only created more “anxiety,” “stress” and “anger” amongst workers.  

Just a day before Trump caved and agreed to reopen the government while he and the Democratic leadership continue to squabble over money for his border wall — Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross dismissed the pain furloughed federal workers and their families have been experiencing, suggesting they could always take out bank loans to cover expenses. 

Friday night’s rally for furloughed federal workers turned into a “limited” celebration.

“Well…I’ve always believed that you ought to walk a mile in someone’s shoes before you judge them,” Tseng told LaborPress. “I don’t tend to judge a lot of people because of that. I don’t have that many feet to walk in other people’s shoes. I think, perhaps, it would have maybe been better if they asked us what we’re going through before staying stuff like that. It does make it sound like [Ross] is out of touch.”

Indeed, over the past 35 days the government shutdown has been in effect, DiCroce said federal employees have been feeling like the pieces being pushed around a chess board. 

“It doesn’t feel good,” the IFPTE  Local 98 president said. “You feel like you’re being used as pawns in somebody else’s deal. Uncertainty of income makes you antsy. Theoretically, you should be saving,  But you make $30-$40,000 a year, you can only save so much. Rent is high, the cost of living is high — especially if you have kids.”

Furloughed federal workers will reportedly receive their backpay over the next three weeks as part of the deal to reopen the government. But this week, the American Federation of Government Employees [AFGE] also began urging all federal employees who have been forced to work without pay during the government shutdown to join a lawsuit that seeks to recover liquidated damages for financial harm suffered. 

“About 800,000 federal employees have gone without a paycheck since the start of the year due to this shutdown, which is the longest in U.S. history,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said in a statement. ”While the agreement reached by the White House and Congress will put employees back to work temporarily and allow them to start getting paid, we will not stop fighting until we have full-year funding approved for all our agencies and until all employees are made whole for the income they have lost.”

Tseng, meanwhile, is further offering to at least enlighten Trump’s commerce secretary on the plight of furloughed federal workers. 

Said Tseng, “I’m more than [happy] to talk to him about it if he wants to engage in a conversation about what it’s like.”

January 26, 2019

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