State lawmakers and union heads joined furloughed federal workers last Thursday outside the State House, where ralliers called for an end to the longest government shutdown in American history and aired their frustrations with President Trump.
On the 27th day of the shutdown that stems from an impasse over border security funding, Rep. Paul Brodeur urged workers to call the White House, Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steven Tolman led the crowd in a chant of “Furlough Donald Trump” and Treasurer Deborah Goldberg said the president is “holding workers hostage.”
“He has no human decency,” Goldberg said. “He has no human capacity to understand that there are 800,000 families in need today, not later on, when he gets his goddamn money for his goddamn wall that isn’t going to do a goddamn thing for our country.”
Brodeur, a Melrose Democrat who hosted the rally and who last session co-chaired the Labor and Workforce Development Committee, thanked Goldberg for her “strong, strong words.”
Brodeur said the event - attended by more than 20 House and Senate Democrats and dozens of federal workers from agencies including the Internal Revenue Service, Customs and Border Protection, and the Securities and Exchange Commission - was intended to show that the Legislature stands in solidarity with federal workers “victimized by the shutdown,” whether they were working without pay or unable to go to work.
“We are all doing our jobs on the front lines here at customs,” said Richard Dargon, vice president of the Boston-based National Treasury Employees Union chapter that represents Customs and Border Protection employees. “It is time for Congress and the president to do their jobs. It is a failure of leadership. Someone has to do the job and step up.”
About fifty to sixty workers from the IRS facility in Andover had planned to take a bus into Boston and join the rally, speakers said, but were called back in Thursday to work without pay.
Linda Candela, a furloughed revenue agent who noted that Jan. 21 will mark her 28th anniversary working for the IRS, said she and her colleagues already feel “demoralized” because of budget cuts at the agency that make it harder to do their jobs.
“Why are we being used as pawns? Where are the checks and balances? Please fund the IRS so we can help fund the US government,” she said.
On Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker said there are 47,000 federal workers who live in Massachusetts and thousands more federal contractors who are going without pay because politicians in Washington can’t reach a government funding agreement.
“We’ve been talking to our colleagues in the Legislature and to some other governors about whether or not there is a way for us to put some kind of unusual unemployment program in place for those folks, because their last check was due on Jan. 8, and if this thing continues, a lot of them are going to end up having trouble making February rent payments, mortgage payments and all the rest,” Baker said during a WGBH Radio appearance Thursday. “And that’s really going to end up being, at least in the short term anyway, our biggest focus.”
Tolman, of the AFL-CIO, drew a parallel to the seven-month lockout of National Grid gas workers that ended earlier this month after unions and the company agreed to a new contract. Days before the deal was announced, Baker had signed legislation allowing locked out workers to continue receiving unemployment benefits.
“Is this the new vogue in the right wing? Is this the new vogue in the haters of the country, to lock people out and pull their health care away?” Tolman said. “There’s something wrong in America when we see a company that made $5 billion lock out their employees for seven months and now a president of the United States...who has a hissy fit over foolishness and then tries to lie his way out of it.”
Sen. Jason Lewis, a Winchester Democrat who last year was Brodeur’s co-chair on the Labor Committee -- and, Brodeur said, “perhaps will be again this session” -- told the crowd that lawmakers are “just really mad that this is what it’s come to. This is not America. This is not our country. This is not our values.”