As the shutdown now wraps up its third week, officers at the Federal Correction Institution in Three Rivers are missing their first paycheck. It’s an issue that local labor unions couldn’t stay silent about any longer. Leaders gathered outside of the prison with a straightforward message — pay these workers and reopen the government.
As Richard Gonzalez, who’s worked at the prison for 21 years, questioned, “We’re in support of a lot of issues going up there but why hold us hostage? Why not pay us?”
Gonzalez has been through several shutdowns and the possibility of one every fiscal year always causes some anxiety.
“‘Are they gonna pass something? Is it gonna happen this year?’ Well, this year it happened and it happened bad,” Gonzalez said.
Richard Wechsler, president of the local chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in reference to the last government shutdown, “Here we are six years later doing the same thing — being used as piggy banks, used as pawns. So we’re just tired of being used.”
With the financial realities weighing down on these employees, their union reps stepped up and were joined by other leaders of local labor unions to say enough is enough.
The plea to end the government shutdown and resume federal employees’ paychecks came with care packages. Representatives from AFGE and other unions including the American Federation of Teachers, the Communication Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, brought along more than 200 bags of groceries to hand out to the correctional officers. They say it was a way to help them with basic necessities at a time when many of them are still reporting to work, but having a hard time making ends meet.
For many, it’s just a small dose relief, while leaders in Washington remain deadlocked over border security — an issue on which AFGE leaders say they’re not taking a particular stance. They say it’s all about making sure people are paid for their work.
“If they need a wall, fund them. Give them the money. We’re going to back them 100 percent,” Gonzalez explained. “But don’t use us as a tool.”
Wechsler also voiced his support for Border Patrol agents and their respective stance on the border wall, pointing out that those agents are also represented by AFGE and not being paid.
“I would never question them, like they would never question on what we need here. All we’re asking is ‘Fight for the wall, but don’t affect us.'”
Wechsler added, “This institution as well is short of officers. We wouldn’t ask the government to shut down because we’re not getting what we want. That’s childish. Work out your differences, make your deal and pay us.”
AFGE is suing the Trump administration over the shutdown. It argues that it’s against the law to require people to work without paying them.