By Sara Hoover
Dozens of federal employees who are furloughed or working without pay rallied at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia on Tuesday to call for an end to the partial federal government shutdown.
State and local lawmakers, along with many federal employee unions came out to support the workers who have been sidelined for 18 days.
U.S. Representatives Dwight Evans, Mary Gay Scanlon, Brendan Boyle and Brian Fitzpatrick spoke. Pa. state Sen. Vincent Hughes also spoke.
Julian Blanco, a park ranger at Independence Park for six years, said he and his wife bought their first home on the eve of the shutdown.
“It’s actually really stressful,” he said. “There was the worry as to whether or not all the paperwork for the FHA loans would go through. Fortunately, we closed before the shutdown really occurred. But now, the first mortgage payment is due. I’m out of a paycheck, so it’s just my wife’s paycheck and whatever we have leftover in savings to make ends meet.”
He said not working has torpedoed his morale.
“I trained to be a ranger, “Blanco said. “I love being a ranger, and it’s no good just being home all day just doing odd jobs and checking things off the ‘honey do’ list…It’s definitely added stress to our lives, in our relationship and it’s just all around us,” said Blanco.
The rally was the park ranger’s first time back to the site since New Year’s.
“Just concerns me the most is there’s no one here besides those at the rally. There are no tourists. I don’t see the tour groups. You don’t see the tour buses running. This is the quieter time of the park but we still get visitors from all over the world and we can’t tell them our story.”
Blanco also worries that the prep work they need to do in anticipation for the larger crowds in a few months will only become more challenging.
“I’m just worried personally that if we’re shut down for so long that it may be harder for us to get restarted.”
Workers from the Internal Revenue Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, Housing and Urban Development, among others, spoke at the event.
The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union representing federal employees hosted the rally.
Adam Duncan is president of the AFGE Council 270. He represents all the employees of the National Park Service from Maine to Virginia.
“We’re not talking about six-figure employees. We’re not making hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most of our employees are $50,000 dollars or less,” he said. “We’re talking about custodians. HVAC mechanics, administrative and clerical employees. We’re here not because we want to be rich. We’re here because we believe in the mission of the National Park.”
Workers from Social Security Administration, Navy and Defense Logistics Agency, Transportation Security Administration and National Treasury Employees Union also attended.
Angela Andrews has worked for the IRS within the Department of Treasury for 29 years, so she’s been through government shutdowns before, but this is the longest one since Bill Clinton was president.
“This has been a hard one because now I have a 13-year-old daughter,” she said. “I didn’t have children during the other shutdowns. And this has been a long one so it’s starting to make me very nervous about how to pay my bills.”
As a single mother, Andrews said it’s making her nervous.
“I have to tell my daughter, ‘We have to watch our money, you know. I can’t do this.’ We can’t do the things that we normally do. So I’m very very scared.”
Andrews, an IRS appeals officer who works to settle federal tax court cases, said she and her colleagues wanted to put pressure on the government because “it’s jeopardizing our financial stability.”
“I just hope that this ends because this is senseless and we want to work,” she said. “We are an essential part of running the government and the country. And everybody is affected by this whether they work for the government or not. And people will start seeing it in the coming weeks.”
Garth Connor has worked in the EPA Philadelphia office for more than 30 years. He’s also a shutdown veteran.
“I think this is the scariest one we’ve ever had,” he said. “Negotiations is part of my job. The negotiation has not gone well at all…you can kind of tell things are not getting very far along in a settlement process. That might be a while.”
Connor is an EPA inspector on the enforcement side. He tests facilities that are having problems with their environmental requirements to see if they’re in compliance.
“I think that a lot of Superfund sites, they can’t really contain contamination on site, which is kind of scary,” he said. “But also in our office, people know they’re not going to get inspected. Hopefully, they’re not discharging contaminants into the nearby river, but no one can really check. No one’s out there. No one’s in the office.”
President Donald Trump will speak from the Oval Office tonight to press his case for funding for a border wall and what he thinks needs to happen to reopen the government.
The American Federation of Government Employees is scheduled to hold another rally in Washington, D.C. Thursday.