Federal workers protest the partial government shutdown

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Protesters rally in Federal Plaza against the partial government shutdown, Thursday afternoon, Jan. 10, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Jewel Spencer knows something about federal shutdowns — she’s endured five of them during her 33 years at the Environmental Protection Agency.

But this shutdown — with the potential to become the longest in history — has been particularly exasperating, said Spencer, who joined about 50 other federal workers protesting in the Loop Thursday.

“It’s more disturbing because of the reason for it — and that we see no end in sight,” said Spencer, 51, who lives on the South Side. “And . . . all the pleas from people who have been dedicated to the government aren’t being heard. Our pleas are irrelevant. It’s hard to fathom.”

During past shutdowns, the key issue has been squabbles over agency funding, Spencer said. In this case, it’s over a wall.

“This is insanity,” Spencer said, adding, “If a wall is not going to be agreed upon, then there is no negotiating, and that makes no sense.”

The biting cold and the fact that many of the furloughed workers live in the suburbs contributed to the small turnout, a union spokeswoman said. Still, union officials vowed to return to protest in the federal plaza every Thursday while the shutdown continues.

They marched in a circle, with the Alexander Calder’s fire-engine red “Flamingo” sculpture as a backdrop, chanting: “End the shutdown!” and “Don’t punish the public!”

Many protesters were shutout workers, but not all. Some came out to show their support.

“It’s other agencies now, but it could us next time. You know how the ball starts rolling, and the next time it could be you,” said Karen Barnes, a union official with the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board.

EPA worker Janet Pope said that as she struggles to pay her bills, she’s called the utility companies to see if they’ll give her a break — without any success.

Pope said she believes President Donald Trump is putting up walls between federal employees and himself, something she calls “crazy.”

“Donald Trump doesn’t care about America. If he did, he wouldn’t treat the American people like he’s treating us. . . . I feel like an alien in my own country,” Pope said.


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