DALLAS — Dozens of government workers, some furloughed, others still working with no promise of getting a paycheck, rallied outside the downtown Dallas office of the Environmental Protection Agency Thursday morning to protest being used as “pawns” in the fight over a border wall.
"It's been pretty tough,” EPA employee Shellita Garrett told us while holding a sign she wrote for both the President and Congress: “I want to work, why can’t you?”
“I actually blame, in general Congress. Both parties,” she said.
She is among government workers furloughed during the government shutdown. She is not working, and she expects her last paycheck tomorrow. The EPA was funded for five days beyond the government shutdown that started 20 days ago. So she and her co-workers can only expect a check that amounts to roughly 40 perfect of their normal pay. But after that, the paychecks stop coming until they can go back to work and start the twice a month pay cycle all over again.
"We want to be back at work, we want to be serving the American public and we want to be able to pay our bills and feed our families,” said Sarah Frey, Ph.D, an EPA chemist and investigator who also took part in the Dallas protest. Similar protests, organized by various unions representing government workers, took place in cities across the country Thursday.
"The biggest harm is the uncertainty,” she said. “When will I come back? When will I be able to work again? How many inspections do I have to cancel?"
"People are feeling the pinch. Co-workers are feeling the pinch,” Love Field TSA agent Harriet Smith told us during the curbside rally. TSA agents are considered essential employees, they are required to report to work. But, starting tomorrow on what would have been a normal payday, she and her fellow agents across the country will not be getting a paycheck.
"I'm not putting blame on anybody,” Smith said. “My thing is I don't like the feeling that I've been taken hostage. It's not up to me to decide if a wall is going to be built or not going to be built. I just want to go to work and get paid for the work that I'm doing."
“Absolutely,” federal correctional officer Kyle Coats said when asked if he felt like he was being used as a hostage or pawn as well. He works at a federal prison in Seagoville and has a disabled daughter who needs his financial support. But he is also considered an essential employee. He knows he won’t be getting a Friday paycheck either.
"Personally, for me, it's going to get difficult tomorrow,” he said of when he will begin to feel the financial squeeze. "It's personal for anybody especially professional law enforcement officers that put their lives on the line every day. To say, 'Hey, we expect you to do this job but you're not going to get a paycheck for it.'"
"He said it was his, that he's going to own it,” Coats said of President Trump. “So, own it Mr. President. We're working. Pay us,” Coats said.
"I would really like to tell him that this is nonsense,” EPA employee Shellita Garrett said when asked what she would like to say to the President and Congress.
"Please understand we have bills to pay and families to take care of,” Harriet Smith added. “And we need to go to work and get paid for our work."
"We are people, we want to feed our families, and we love to work and we want to work,” said Sarah Frey. “We love to serve the American public."
"This shutdown is real. It's affecting real American families,” federal correctional officer Kyle Coats said when asked what his final message would be to lawmakers in the middle of the border wall stalemate. “So it has to end. It has to end."
The government shutdown has left more than 800,000 federal employees either furloughed or still working, but without pay.