With the partial government shutdown now in its 20th day, federal government workers and their allies marched and held a rally in front of the historic Old Capitol building in Tallahassee on Thursday, with a simple message for the lawmakers back in Washington – let them get back to work.
The rally of around 40 people was organized by the AFL-CIO and other labor groups, and was matched by similar rallies around the country, with the largest one taking place in the nation’s capital.
Friday will mark the first full pay period of 14 days since the shutdown began, and workers will not get a paycheck at all. That’s led to an intense focus among government workers that, regardless of the politics that created the shutdown, it needs to end now.
“These people – we don’t care what side you’re on, Republican or Democrat, wall or no wall – we just want a paycheck,” said Ray Coleman Jr., the local president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). “We think that those people in Congress need to know we deserve a paycheck for the work that we do.”
There appears to be no end in sight for the shutdown, which began nearly three weeks ago. President Trump is demanding that Democrats commit to spending more than $5 billion to help pay for a security barrier and other border security provisions along the U.S. – Mexico border, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remains adamantly opposed, saying a border wall is “immoral.”
David Fernandez is a spokesman for the Florida AFL-CIO communications. He agrees that there are serious issues with immigration in the country right now, but believes the negotiations could resume after the shutdown has ended.
“At the Florida AFL-CIO we believe there are issues with immigration in this country. It should be dealt with comprehensively to deal with the huge backlog that we see in our immigration courts,” he said. “And make sure that we put human rights and people’s rights in whatever we pass when it comes to immigration. We think that’s something that should be decided in D.C., but workers here shouldn’t be affected by those decisions, and they should be able to go back and do their jobs.”
A spokesman for the Florida AFL-CIO estimated that there are between 10,000 to 30,000 federal workers in Florida who have not been paid for their work over the past three weeks. That includes the workers at correctional institutions and TSA agents at airports.
Joining in the protest was recently elected Tallahassee City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow. He said that the shutdown is beginning to have real dire consequences in people’s lives.
“More than half the people in this country live paycheck to paycheck. They understand the struggle that people who aren’t getting paid are going through, and I think they’ll step up and put pressure on the government, and really when people get together and try to do what’s right, I think the government’s going to listen,” he said.
“You can debate the morals and the ethics (of the debate) later, but pay the workers first,” added Sam Neimeiser with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
Interestingly, while corrections officials in Florida’s federal prisons aren’t being paid, the inmates get small stipends and most members of Congress still get paid (more than 60 members are not taking the money during the shutdown).
Coleman Jr. noted the irony.
“Inmates are still getting paid. Congress is still getting paid. No matter how you look at it, the crooks are still getting paid.”