A million U.S. government workers, unions brace for shutdown

Reuters

By Amanda Becker and Ian Simpson

Sept 30 (Reuters) - As many as a million U.S. governmentemployees were making urgent plans on Monday for a possiblemidnight shutdown, with their unions urging Congress to strike alast-minute deal.

To avoid sending hundreds of thousands of workers across thecountry home without pay, lawmakers must act within hours, butit was unclear if an agreement could be reached in time.

On the streets of Washington at midday, federal worker GaryPeyton Hardaway, 30, said he faced possible furlough, but thathe was "optimistic" a deal could be reached.

If not, he predicted a shutdown would be short in duration."At that point, pretty much Congress and the whole world willrealize how serious it is," Hardaway told Reuters.

If Congress fails to approve a spending bill before Tuesday,between 800,000 and 1 million government workers will be forcedto take unpaid time off.

Only "essential" personnel at national parks, federalcourthouses, food stamp programs, passport offices and otheragencies funded by congressional appropriations would keepworking until the government is authorized to spend money again.

Nearly 2.8 million people were employed by the federalgovernment as of September 2012, according to the U.S. Office ofPersonnel Management. Not all, however, are at agencies thatwould be affected by a shutdown.

The American Federation of Government Employees, the largestfederal employee union, estimated half its 670,000 members wouldbe furloughed, while the other half, deemed essential, wouldwork, but not get paid until after a deal is reached.

"Half will be told to stay home without pay, half will betold to come to work without pay," spokesman Tim Kauffman said.

If there is a shutdown, union leaders said, they wouldpressure Congress to ensure that furloughed federal employeesare also paid after the fact. Congress would have to authorizesuch payments, as it did for workers affected by the lastgovernment shutdown in late 1995 and early 1996.

"The National Treasury Employees Union will be leading thefight to make that happen," the union's president, ColleenKelley, told Reuters, adding that 90 percent of the workforce itrepresented at the Internal Revenue Service was facing furlough.

In a shutdown, taxes would not be collected; audits wouldnot be done; and a skeleton crew at the IRS would not beproviding taxpayer guidance, Kelley said.

IRS workers have already had to take off three unpaid daysfrom work since May due to the automatic budget cuts known asthe sequester. "The non-stop questions about the future aresomething that is very disheartening to longtime federalemployees, they're tired," Kelley said.

The American Federation of Government Employees hadconference calls set for Monday night to answer questions frommembers about what to expect if furloughed. An online campaignencourages members to call lawmakers, write letters to theeditor and organize picket lines in their cities.

A 43-year-old IRS worker facing furlough, who asked not tobe identified due to the nature of his work, told Reuters hisoffice was "completely distracted" by the looming shutdown.

"I'm mostly sorry for the state of our government," he said."It's an embarrassment for the country that the government can'tget simple things done."

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