Union calls for more action to prevent further issues
After having to decide whether to feed his children or pay for his chemotherapy treatment, Transportation Security Administration Officer Eric Schmidt was pleased when a deal was reached to reopen the federal government but was still waiting for the next shoe to drop.
“Is the ink dry yet?” Officer Schmidt, 42, of Ventura asked. “That was my reaction.”
The father of two who works at Santa Barbara Municipal Airport has a degenerative condition that requires chemotherapy to balance out his immune system. He likens it to rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.
“I had to decide whether to buy that chemo or feed my kids, or put gas in my car to come to a job that isn’t paying me,” he explained. “Everybody is making those same decisions on a daily basis because losing a paycheck, let alone losing two paychecks, is detrimental.”
Officer Schmidt was one of some 800,000 federal employees who went 35 days without pay during the partial government shutdown. With an agreement in place to keep the government open until Feb. 15, he argued that the extension won’t save anyone but would make things worse; that is unless the government is funded through the fiscal year.
“I come to work and manage my condition so I can work, so I can be a productive member of society and so that I can still fulfill my commitment to support my country,” Officer Schmidt told the News-Press on Friday afternoon standing outside the airport.
“The stress of the shutdown and the fact that I have to determined if I’m going to pay for my medication or pay for food only makes it worse,” he said. “It could throw me into a flare up which is damaging to my body. It’s my livelihood at stake.”
Officer Schmidt was joined by union representatives, city officials and elected officials to speak out against the shutdown. Though a deal was reached just hours before a scheduled press conference, several federal employees spoke with the News-Press about how the shutdown affected their lives.
TSA Officer Victor Payes, 29, works at Los Angeles International Airport. He told the News-Press that missing out on his paycheck has caused a lot of stress in his life. He has taken out a loan and postponed car payments to make ends meet.
“Even knowing at some point that I’m going to get paid, there’s still that insecurity,” Officer Payes said. “Just knowing that you’re going to get paid doesn’t help you live your life day to day.”
Having been a TSA officer during the 2013 government shutdown — which lasted 16 days — Officer Payes said this time felt different because there was an increased tension in the workplace.
With no support staff at the airport for the last month-plus, Officer Payes said there are still questions whether all the federal agents will be fully reimbursed because there was no one present to keep track of hours logged.
John Rodriguez, a national representative with the American Federation of Government Employees union, said he’s heard countless stories from employees on the hardships they have faced. Some have had to sleep in their cars, call in sick because they can’t afford gas to get to work, or even move back in with their parents because they can’t afford their rent.
“The shutdown might have ended but they might still be struggling for the next two weeks,” Mr. Rodriguez said.
“We want the government funded for the rest of the year, not the next few weeks,” he said. “We don’t want a situation where every time a politician doesn’t get his way, in this case the president, they can turn around and use the federal employees’ livelihoods as a bargaining chip.”
Bobby Orozco, 37, of Los Angeles, president for the AFGE, Local 1260 group, represents more than 3,000 TSA officers in Southern California including the local airport. He called any celebration by Congress “an empty boast” and said more needs to be done to prevent further issues.
“This three-week band aid is not enough,” he said. “There needs to be serious and comprehensive measures … to prevent federal employees like our transportation security officers from ever being used as political pawns.”
Jeremy Goldberg, of the Central Coast Labor Council, argued the issues surrounding the shutdown shouldn’t be about a wall or immigration, but rather the families affected.
“Those are important issues to discuss some other time in some other place on some other day,” he said. “This is about working families. These individuals live here and they work here and they deserve the respect of our government and its elected officials.”
Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo and the Rev. Julia Hamilton, of the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara, also spoke during Friday’s press conference.
Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, called the shutdown “needless” and “senseless.”
“We can agree to disagree, we can even disagree,” he said. “We should negotiate our differences in a bipartisan way. … But we cannot close down our government when the president has a tantrum and gets fixated on a political promise that he made to build a wall.”
Calling the wall “ineffective” and “a waste of resources,” he continued “We all agree, Democrats and Republicans, that we ought to secure our border. But we need to do it cost-effectively.”