PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

October 14, 2013

Federal union workers picket government shutdown

Sherry Koonce
The Port Arthur News

BEAUMONT — Going into the third week of the government shutdown Kim Labier is feeling the effects of not drawing a paycheck.

She and her husband work at the federal prison complex in Beaumont — one of the entities affected by the shutdown — and they are beginning to run out of money to pay bills.

Both were outside the Jack Brooks Federal Building in Beaumont Monday picketing with other federal union members, hoping to draw attention to what has become an economic quagmire.

Making matters worse than some of the furloughed federal employees, the prison’s 950 employees are required to come to work because of the nature of their jobs. The prison workers don’t have any guarantee they will be reimbursed for those lost wages when the government finally does start up again.

Prison employees who had scheduled time off for vacations and the like had to cancel their plans and report to work without pay, or be considered AWOL, Labier, 42, of Port Neches, said.

“I have always paid all my bills, and now I am having to tell them I cannot pay,” Labier said. “I am disgusted. I’ve given 17 years of service to the government; we have dedicated out lives keeping people locked up, and now we are still doing it, and not getting paid.”

Labier joined other government workers picketing outside the Jack Brooks Federal Building in Beaumont Monday in an attempt to draw attention to the harm caused by the shutdown.

“I though indentured servitude was over with,” Anthony Simon, 44, of Beaumont and president of the American Federal Government Employee Local 1010, said.

Like other federal prison employees, Simon has been furloughed, yet has to work, since day one of the government shutdown.

“People were not prepared for this,” he said.

Simon said he’s had trouble placing blame on any one elected government official in Washington.

“I blame it on all of them. It can’t be that hard to make a decision,” he said.

While the prison employees are told they have to work, others are told not to show up.

“It’s been impacting everybody,” Jeff Darby, president of the American Federal Government Employees Local 2139, said.

Darby, an employee of the Department of Labor, has not been at work since Oct. 1, the first day of the shutdown.

In the Beaumont area alone, there are about 15 or so agencies that employ about 1,000 people represented by Local 2139. Most have been told to not come to work, Darby said.

This is not Darby’s first go-round with a government shutdown. In 1995-96, when Bill Clinton was president, he experienced a government shutdown, but thought it would never happen again.

“It’s time for Congress and the President to put us back to work and pay us I feel like a political bargaining chip,” he said.

Darby said he mainly blames the Congressional Republicans, though the President does share some of the blame.

“I do not believe it is proper, whatever a person’s opinion on Obamacare is, to not fund the budget and let people suffer,” Darby said. “ Let’s address that separately.”

Darby at least has been able to file for unemployment benefits since that program is administered by the state.

Prison employees, because they are coming to work, cannot collect unemployment benefits, Patricia Thomas, 46, of Port Arthur, said.

Like Labier, Thomas’ husband also works for the federal prison system. Both women have children at home, and no income.

“If Congress were not getting paid, we would not be in this predicament. Congress needs to be voted out. I blame them all,” Labier said. “I am very disappointed in our leaders.”

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