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As longest-ever shutdown drags on, federal worker protest grows

Aarthi Swaminathan
Finance Writer

This post has been updated.

Update 01/17/19: President Trump signed a new bill on Wednesday night guaranteeing back pay for federal employees affected by the government shutdown. But as yet another day drags on, workers who are either furloughed or working without pay are still suffering from lack of funds.

The shutdown has reached day 27 —  the longest in history — and stories about hardship faced by workers from various agencies have even inspired acts of kindness.

While White House Chief Economic Adviser Kevin Hassett previously suggested that the nearly 800,000 furloughed workers are “better off” on what he calls an extended vacation, others disagree. 

From park police officers to airport security agents, furloughed federal workers are expressing their frustration by joining a union-led march last week over missed paychecks and filing lawsuits.

Despite their grievances, they’re unlikely to quit the job. “They believe in public service… they’re not just going to walk away,” Jacqueline Simon, the director of public policy for the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal workers’ union told the NYT. But “there may come a point when some of them have to, to feed their families, but no one wants to do that.”

Government shutdown protests include this rally against a partial government shutdown at a protest hosted by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. (Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Here’s a look a the various signs of defiance:

Air traffic controllers

Despite their vital role in directing air traffic, controllers who are working through the shutdown will not be getting a paycheck for the last two weeks of work. Zero dollar paystubs were distributed last Thursday, according to one controller. 

Workers filed a lawsuit last Friday requesting for an expedited hearing for violation of their Fifth Amendment rights, arguing that the “government unlawfully deprived NATCA members of their earned wages without due process.”

Government shutdown protests are increasing as more time passes. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

Department of Homeland Security

Employees at the DHS — the epicenter of the wall funding debate — are voicing their frustrations, highlighting that not all federal employees are supportive of the political haggling over the proposed $5.7 billion border wall. The DHS includes groups like the Border Patrol and Immigrations Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Transportation Security Administration

Some TSA employees have resigned over the missed paychecks, while others are considering quitting.

“Every day I’m getting calls from my members about their extreme financial hardship and need for a paycheck,” TSA council president Hydrick Thomas said in a statement. “Some of them have already quit and many are considering quitting the federal workforce because of the shutdown.”

The TSA has said it will compensate employees with one day’s worth of pay in addition to a $500 bonus. But given their importance regarding airport security, TSA employees are expected to continue working without pay for the foreseeable future.

Government shutdown protests coming from the TSA could delay a lot of travel. (Photo credit: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Federal Bureau of Investigation

Nearly 13,000 FBI agents are likely to have missed their first paycheck last Friday.

“An agent’s financial security is national security,” said FBI Agents Association President Tom O’Connor. “A missed paycheck could jeopardize security clearances.”

Internal Revenue Service

The IRS may have found a way to issue tax refund checks despite the shutdown, but employees aren’t receiving paychecks and are growing increasingly worried about mounting costs. Small scale protests held around the country in places like Ogden, Utah — one of the top employers in the area — attracted almost 5,000 employees.

“We eat a lot of ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese,” said one IRS employee. “You do what you have to do because we don’t know how long this is going to last.”

Union members and Internal Revenue Service workers rally outside an IRS Service Center to call for an end to the partial government shutdown, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, in Covington, Ky. (Photo credit: AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Puerto Rico

The governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, criticized a plan circulating within the Trump administration which outlined a strategy that would reallocate funds meant for California, Puerto Rico and Texas for the recovery effort towards the wall.

“No wall should be funded on the pain and suffering of US citizens who have endured tragedy and loss through a natural disaster,” he tweeted. “This include those citizens that live in CA, TX, PR, VI and other jurisdictions. Today it’s us, tomorrow it could be you.”

Others

Apart from the NATCA suit, the biggest union representing federal workers has also filed one back in December in a case where two plaintiffs argue that they were forced to work without pay despite working dangerous jobs in high-security prisons.

Five employees working with agencies such as the Department of Justice, Departments of Transportation, Agriculture and Homeland Security also claim that — apart from the Fifth Amendment — the shutdown also violates the Thirteenth Amendment since they are being forced to work without pay.

Government shutdown protests arguably include some Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) when it comes to the president potentially declaring a national emergency. (Picture credit: Getty Images)

Government shutdown protests inside Trump’s party?

The Washington Post reported that Republican leaders told Trump — before the shutdown began — that he would be “boxed in” if he went down this path. The president chose to dig in anyway.

Furthermore, Trump’s battle for the wall caused tensions between top Republican lawmakers nervous about the president declaring a national emergency to secure the necessary funding.

Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee and Senator Ron Johnson told CNN that he would “hate” to see Trump invoke the office’s emergency powers. “If we do that, it’s going to go to court and the wall won’t get built.”

Aarthi is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.

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