Frustration growing for federal employees shut out of work

Published: Thursday, Oct. 3 2013 8:43 p.m. MDT

Federal employees and their supporters protest against the government shutdown at the James V. Hansen Federal Building in Ogden, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013. At front center is Vickie Gibson, an IRS employee who has been furloughed.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

OGDEN — Ever since she learned she wouldn't be working this week because of the government shutdown, fear and uncertainty has plagued Chaleste Spencer.

The Internal Revenue Service employee put on a brave face Thursday as she joined protestors outside the James V. Hansen Federal Building, carrying a bright pink sign she made that states, "Stop holding federal workers hostage."

But when Spencer was asked how she will face the days ahead without a paycheck and no end to the government shutdown in sight, the tears broke through.

"It's not fair," she said, emotion catching in her voice as she began to weep. "Congress has houses, they have cars, they have boats, they have retirement. I'm young. I started out young, and I don't know what the future is going to hold for me because Congress can't figure this out."

The bills are beginning to pile up, Spencer said. Phone bills, car payments, utilities and rent were all dependant on the next paycheck she was supposed to receive, but no one knows whether she'll be back at work before they come due.

Several family members, including Spencer's parents and a sister, are also federal employees who have been hit by the shutdown.

"We just want to go back to work. That's all we want," Spencer said as she stood in line with her furloughed co-workers.

At one point the group of protestors neared 100 people, made up of members from two unions of federal employees. The response from drivers leaving work was enthusiastic as they passed, honking their horns and shouting.

Jenny Brown, chapter president for the National Treasury Employees Union, said union members were enthusiastic once they heard about Thursday's protest.

The rally served as a chance to get together and support one another, as well as members of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1592 union, which staged a protest earlier this week outside Hill Air Force Base.

Through the week, concern and frustration has been growing, Brown said. Of the 5,000 bargaining union members employed by the IRS in Utah, Brown estimates 90 percent aren't working this week.

"The big concerns are finances for families," Brown said. "We've got a lot of single parents. We have a lot of people who take care of their elderly parents, and we have a lot of couples where both of them work at IRS, so they're out two paychecks."

Spencer has been married for two years, and because her husband's construction job is mostly seasonal, the young couple has relied on her job at the IRS to provide steady income. They don't have much in savings.

"I wish we could be to that point where we could actually have money put away and have it saved so that we could know that we're safe, even for a two-week furlough, but we're not," Spencer said, adding that she is praying the gridlock will end soon.

Spencer said she sees the situation as entirely unnecessary, saying she disagrees with Republicans who are hijacking the federal budget in order to fight against Obamacare.

"It's silly that they're playing these games because of Obamacare, and that's the reason why they're not budging on (passing the budget)," she said. "That shouldn't have any effect on today."

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com

Twitter: McKenzieRomero

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