Hill Air Force Base employees protest government shutdown
Matt Gade, Deseret News
HILL AIR FORCE BASE — For more than a decade, Bob Milliner's passion has been keeping planes in the air, working as an aircraft electrician at Hill Air Force Base.
Before that, he served 23 years in the Air Force Reserves, including a tour during Operation Desert Storm and other campaigns.
But when he showed up to work Tuesday morning, hours after congressional bickering blocked passage of a federal budget, Milliner didn't know whether he was one of the estimated 2,600 union members who won't be reporting to the base during the government shutdown.
Milliner gets to stay, for now, but if the shutdown drags on, the Riverdale resident fears it's only a matter of time before he joins the friends and colleagues he saw turned away from work Tuesday.
He joined more than 50 others who stood outside the base's south entrance Tuesday afternoon in protest, hoisting a sign that read "Congress: Federal employees want to work."
"It's very frustrating to have our Congress turn their backs on us like this," Milliner said, " to leave us standing out on the street like this."
The group was made up of members of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1592 union, which represents 8,000 workers at Hill Air Force Base.
"Furlough shutdown's got to go," they chanted. "Call your congressmen," they shouted to passing drivers who asked how they could help. They were met by near constant cheers and honking as passing drivers showed support.
"What happened to 'by the people, for the people?'" one woman shouted from an open car window.
Meanwhile, steady traffic flowed in and out of the base, and planes roared as they lifted off the runways, as employees who had been deemed "mission essential" went about their responsibilities. But a feeling of "doom and gloom" overshadowed it all, Milliner said.
"It was pretty empty, and a lot of familiar faces that you normally see at work weren't at work today," he said. "There was a lot of disbelief in the things that are happening."
Milliner's wife, who works at the Internal Revenue Service Center in Ogden, was among those federal employees told not to come to work Tuesday, and the couple worries their lost wages will impact their three children, who are nearing college age.
"We could be out of income completely. We don't know," he said. "The thought of the unknown and how it's going to affect us, I have no idea, and the kids are scared to death."
The family has been encouraged by friends and neighbors who have called to offer support once they realized the Milliners would be impacted by the shutdown.
"I got a lot of phone calls supporting what I do, and (neighbors) all offered to call their congressmen and express what they're doing to good people in our community," said Milliner, who hopes that a flood of messages from concerned constituents could break the impasse.
Fielding calls Tuesday from workers about whether they will be allowed to work or how long the furlough will last was especially painful for Monty Lewis, union president.
"We don't know the answer," Lewis said. "The employees that were sent home this morning don't know how many days they'll be home. It's all up to Congress when they pass the (continuing resolution)."
Many Hill Air Force Base employees are coming off a mandatory six-day furlough, when they were required to stay home without pay last month, Lewis said. With that furlough, at least there was an end in sight, he said.
Carolyn Chando, an environmental specialist at the base, said she believes the financial drain from the shutdown will reach businesses in surrounding cities as employees stop coming in for work.
"We're not going to be spending dollars downtown, like at the local eateries at lunchtime," Chando said. "It will trickle down."
In the meantime, Milliner said he has tried calling Utah's congressional delegation to express his frustration, but so far hasn't been able to speak to anyone.
If he could get them on the phone, he said his message would be simply, "Let us go back to work."
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