Hundreds of federal workers marched on the White House on Thursday chanting “Back to work now!” as the government shutdown approached the end of its third week and workers received no checks on payday.
President Trump was not at home to receive the protesters, as he traveled to the southern border in McAllen, Texas, to talk with Border Patrol officials over what his administration has deemed a “humanitarian crisis.”
The protest, which began a block away at noon at AFL-CIO headquarters, included speeches from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and federal employee union representatives.
One protester, an employee at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, is seven months pregnant and told HSToday she’s “mostly worried about making childcare payments.”
“We have a 3-year-old son at home, and in order to keep his spot at his daycare we have to pay,” the NOAA employee said without revealing her name. “We don’t really have an option, and we also have our mortgage payment coming up, so we’re a little worried about that. I recognize that I’m luckier than most because my husband works in the private sector, but it’s really impacting our preparation for baby No. 2, and I’m concerned about going into maternity leave without extra cash on hand… I just want it to end, to be honest with you. I feel like the Senate could vote today on any of the bills that the House has been passing, so politics aside they could solve border issues later.”
Sanders, a 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, told President Trump to “grow up.”
“It is unbelievable that we have a president of the United States who is prepared to deny the paychecks of 800,000 federal workers,” Sanders said. “It is unbelievable that we have a president of the United States who is prepared to deny basic governmental services to millions of Americans who need those services. So, today we say to this president, grow up, do your job, end this shutdown.”
Gary Karibean, representing 1,700 federal employees as a chapter president of the National Treasury Employees Union, is also customer service representative at the Internal Revenue Service.
“I know I’m missing a paycheck coming up. I’m trying to negotiate with my creditors and my mortgage company,” said Karibean, who has two young children. “I’m not here to lay blame. I just want to go back to work… This is about the American people, too. The federal government keeps them safe.”
One protester, a researcher with the U.S. International Trade Commission, said that she is almost living paycheck-to-paycheck under her current full-time salary, and that the shutdown has forced her to think about finding another source of income.
“I’m starting to think that I might need a second job,” said the protester, who spoke anonymously. “I can still pay my bills for now, but that’s not going to last until February.”
A five-year employee at the Food and Drug Administration said that she has three children and bills to pay.
“So, a lot of uncertainty,” the FDA employee said, adding that her family will be in trouble if the shutdown lasts much longer. “We’ll probably be pretty screwed… I’m out looking for some part-time side stuff, and we’re doing everything we can to make it work.”