In the interest of full disclosure, I work for the largest labor union in the federal sector: the American Federation of Government Employees. But I am not writing on their behalf or because I was told to do so. This is personal.
Federal employees are largely invisible. Actually, we take them for granted. With certain exceptions such as TSA and the VA, most of us think almost nothing about them until and unless we have a problem that forces us into the federal system, be that Social Security, worker rights, food safety, or any number of other issues. We get so used to the services provided by federal workers that many of us actually believe that these matters are being performed automatically. I would go further and suggest that some of us seem to believe that it is being done through magic.
With the government shutdown/lockout, we come face-to-face with the reality of government. Various functions have stopped working altogether; agencies and offices are closed; and almost a million workers are out on the street.
I know some of those workers. Let me tell you a bit about what they are facing: complete uncertainty. For years, politicians, particularly but not exclusively Republicans, have been making federal workers scapegoats for any number of problems. Then last year there was the sequestration which, in effect, cut the pay of hundreds of thousands of workers.
With the shutdown/lockout, these same workers have been thrown into a mist. They have rents and mortgages to pay; they have credit card payments; they have children in school, yet those in Congress who have shut down the government care not one bit for this reality. They see the federal worker as an enemy and they want that enemy punished. The shutdown is a “two-for” as far as the Tea Party Republicans are concerned: go after the Obama administration and go after the federal worker.
In the name of blocking health care for more than 50 million people, the Tea Party Republicans have shut down the government. In shutting down the government they have rendered another million people unemployed, thereby setting in motion economic dominoes that may wreck entire communities. One would think that they might think twice about this, but the political motivations of this attack are too strong for some and if they have to bring everything down in order to prove a point, they are apparently quite willing to do so.
This only stops when we stop them.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. works for the American Federation of Government Employees. This commentary does not necessarily represent the views of the AFGE and was not written on their behalf.