Frustration growing among furloughed government workers

Furloughed federal workers from the Philadelphia area in a lunchtime protest near City Hall. "The stereotype of government workers who don't work hard is baloney," said one demonstrator.
Furloughed federal workers from the Philadelphia area in a lunchtime protest near City Hall. "The stereotype of government workers who don't work hard is baloney," said one demonstrator. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 11, 2013

Fear and frustration grew among furloughed federal workers in the Philadelphia region Wednesday, as dozens staged a noisy protest to demand that elected officials end the shutdown and put them back on the job.

About 50 chanting and sign-waving employees from agencies including the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency gathered in Center City outside the Wanamaker Building, which houses several government offices.

"We want to work," the employees shouted in unison.

"Then go to work!" responded a passerby.

Few pedestrians paid much attention to the commotion, walking past with a glance as they headed to restaurants or offices near City Hall. For workers, though, the rally was an important public attempt to be heard.

As the government closure enters its 10th day Thursday, wallets and nerves are being strained. A goal of the lunchtime protest was to give the shutdown a public face, to show that federal workers and the people they serve are being hurt.

About 800,000 workers, including many of the 46,880 in the Philadelphia and Camden metro areas, were sent home without pay last week. The Defense Department has recalled 350,000 civilians.

Across the country, there's not much sympathy for federal civilian workers, as confidence in their abilities has reached a new low, according to a recent George Washington University poll of registered voters.

More than 33 percent had little or no confidence in federal workers, up from 21 percent in 2009 and 23 percent in 2011. The researchers said recent scandals in the National Security Agency and IRS might explain that.

"Most federal workers are hardworking and fair," public policy professor William Adams said in a statement, "but this year's series of scandals and controversies seems to have damaged their reputation."

Workers hear the criticism.

"We've really become a punching bag," said Judith Axler of Philadelphia, a HUD manager, who held a sign that read, "Don't use us as a bargaining chip."

"The stereotype of government workers who don't work hard is baloney," she said. "The people I work with, they work very hard."

Many of the federal workers who live paycheck to paycheck are now struggling. What's more, she said, the people they serve aren't getting help and assistance.

Several HUD workers said their jobs involved helping people secure loans to get housing, or finding new housing for families on the verge of homelessness. Some worried about circumstances their own families might face if the shutdown continued.

"It's pretty scary," said Lyn Kirshenbaum, a single mother who works for HUD. "Our children are afraid."

Police from the Federal Protective Service watched the protest from 10 feet away. After an hour, the demonstrators moved to Market Street, drawing honks and thumbs-up signs from drivers.

"Hey hey, ho ho, the furlough has got to go," they chanted.

One union official said the rally was aimed at showing people that key government services had ended - and the public was being harmed.

"They need to know what's happening," said Gary Morton, president of Local 3631 of the American Federal Government Employees and an EPA employee. "Since we're not on the clock, the polluters have free reign."


jgammage@phillynews.com

215-854-4906

@JeffGammage

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