US gov't workers feel sting at pecking order exposed by shutdown
By Alina Selyukh, ReutersWASHINGTON--The U.S. government shutdown has divided hundreds of thousands of workers into those classified as critically important and others seen as less so, bruising egos and leaving many grappling with the financial toll of unpaid leave.
October 3, 2013, 12:11 am TWN
“I'm heading in to be non-essential,” said one Environmental Protection Agency worker on the metro transit system on Tuesday as she joined many others going to work just to cancel meetings, lock up files and set out-of-office messages on email and voice mail.
The U.S. government shut down for the first time in 17 years after Congress failed to agree on a budget, splitting federal workers into a painful pecking order of “essential” employees who have to keep working and “non-essential” workers sent on unpaid leave.
Some 800,000 to 1 million federal employees nationally are expected to be furloughed because of the shutdown. They will be required to suspend work-related activity, including checking email or using work-issued phones and laptops, until lawmakers break the political stalemate and pass a spending bill.
It's unclear how long that will last and how many employees will receive retroactive paychecks.
“All of us were told not to report to work. We can't even report to campus to water our plants,” said Suzanne Kerba, a health communications specialist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Pinning the “preventable” shutdown on Republicans, President Barack Obama wrote to federal workers on Tuesday, saying they do valued work “in a political climate that, too often in recent years, has treated you like a punching bag.”
Obama and his fellow Democrats have rejected Republican efforts to use the funding impasse as leverage to change the president's signature healthcare law, known as “Obamacare.”
Federal employees whose work has been labeled not essential have been hit hard as political dysfunction repeatedly stifles negotiations between Democrats, who control the Senate, and Republicans, who lead the House of Representatives.
Many offices have had long-standing freezes on hiring new staff and have not been able to offer raises to keep up with the growing cost of living for several years, workers say.
For many employees, Tuesday's furloughs are the second time this year they have been sent home without pay. The first furloughs resulted from across-the-board government spending cuts known as the “sequester,” also prompted by disagreements in Congress over federal spending.