By Juan Rodriguez, NewsTaco
With our Federal Government well into the Shutdown, nearly 800,000 Federal agency employees are out of work or working without pay. That is to say they are not presently earning an income. Under the current Shutdown they still have bills to pay and families to support and lives to manage. According to the Office of Personnel Management (opm.gov) there are 2,100,000 employees (including all agencies and military as well as all pay grades) working for the Federal Government of which 163,000 are Latino.
While the Shutdown impacts all Federal workers, it is important to recognize our Latino brothers and sisters affected by the Shutdown and hear what they have to say. I had the opportunity to interview Latino/a employees from select environmental agencies and discuss how the Shutdown directly affects their lives, jobs and the public they serve.
For the purposes of this story, the names of the Federal employees listed here have been changed to protect their identities and allow them to speak freely without jeopardizing their jobs.
Employee #1- Ramon – National Park Service (NPS)
Ramon is an upper middle management career employee with the National Park Service on the East Coast. According to Ramon, his unit has been preparing for the Shutdown for a longtime. Leading up to the Shutdown, he was able to save three paychecks worth of money – that is, a month and half of pay and is making necessary purchases on a credit card that had no balance at the start of the shutdown. He is hoping he won’t have touch his savings.
The situation for Ramon and his coworkers became much more stressful when they realized the won’t be receiving paychecks. For those considered non-essential and are required to work, Ramon says that it hit harder for them because they still have work related expenses such gas for the commute and food for meals.
“This shutdown is senseless and bad for the country. If we get back pay, taxpayers could be very upset. People already have a bad image of Federal Employees. This will further hurt their image of us,” adds Ramon. He continues. “these are not high paying jobs. We love our jobs and we love our country.”
During the Sequester NPS employees were making do with what little funding was available. “Being called nonessential hurts. It hurt giving furlough notices to my employees. That they would be considered nonessential hurt,” he laments.
As for the Shutdown and it’s impact on taxpayers especially those that utilize National Parks, Ramon starts to recite a list of functions that have ceased. The Park were he is assigned to has a neighboring community that is over 50% Latino and also has a significant African American population. Many from the community legal fish in the park. This is not recreational fishing but rather what NPS terms as “sustenance fishing.” Also, without NPS Interruptive Rangers, school groups and daily visitors are shut out. Campers, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts cannot use the Nation Parks that their taxes pay for.
A major concern of his is that without NPS employees on the job there will and increase in wildlife poaching. Without NPS employees at work, protected wildlife is at risk to those that do no respect wildlife and conservation efforts.
“I wish Speaker Boehner would bring a clean Concurrent Resolution to the floor of the House of Representatives the record. This not about one side winning or losing. Under the Shutdown, the whole country is losing. Americans are not getting what they pay for,” concludes Ramon.
Employee #2 – Fernando – United States Forest Service
Another Federal employee greatly affected by the shutdown is Fernando. Fernando AND his wife Carmela both work for the United States Forest Service (FS) on the West Coast. They have two small children both under that age of five.
According to Fernando, during the Shutdown he and all FS employees cannot look for other work without ethics approval. Of course, the ethics office and the personnel that normally would consider the request are furloughed as well.
At the forest he works at only essential personnel are on duty – Law Enforcement, Line Officers and others deemed so. They are reporting for duty without pay until the Shutdown is resolved.
Taxpayers are affected though. FS public lots are closed, permit offices while not entirely closed are staffed with skeleton crews and recreational areas are shut down. While it still is Fire Season, the risk for forest fires is not as high as it was mid summer. Forest fires can be dealt with crews they have.
When asked about the direct impact of the Shutdown on his family, Fernando stated that he and his wife dipped into their savings and took care of priorities. “We will be okay. The irony of all this is that the reason I took a job with the Forest Service is because the Federal Government never shuts down,” he states.
Employee #3 – Alicia – National Park Service
Alicia is a seasonal law enforcement officer for the National Park Service in the Northwest and was initially told she was essential only to be later told that she was not. She loves her park, her colleagues and most of all, her job.
She is currently reporting for duty for no pay and a government IOU. Her park is completely closed to the public. As in other NPS parks, poaching is an issue and the Federal Shutdown has coincided with with hunting season. Alicia commented that moral is not good at the moment and some of her colleagues are looking to leave and find new careers when the shutdown ends. Since she is seasonal she plans to ride it out.
“Our park is underfunded as it is. We have vacant law enforcement positions that have not been filled since before the Shutdown with the current Sequester. Our current team is highly trained and very dedicated,” she says. Since she is single and seasonal she is not under the same stress as her colleagues that have families and homes to support.
After talking to these dedicated Federal Employees, it is evident that the Federal Shutdown has direct consequences on the lives of professionals and of course tax payers who have paid into services that the agencies provide. Latino/as working for Federal agencies nationwide contribute greatly and believe in their jobs and are proud to serve the United States. It with great hopes that all our leaders in Washington D.C. come together quickly and find a workable solution and get our nation back on track.
Juan A. Rodriguez is a seasoned media political consultant based in Chicago and Milwaukee. He is also the Executive Director of the [email protected] Advocacy Project (facebook.com/latinovap). An organization that addresses environmental issues and Latino voting efforts. He can be reached at 847-497-0615 and [email protected][Photo by USACE HQ]