HOUSTON (CN) – Furloughed NASA worker Craig Rhodes said Tuesday if he misses one more paycheck he’s going to start looking for another job. “You get kind of sick and tired of Congress saying, ‘Well just dip into your savings.’ Okay, my savings will last me a few weeks, then what?”
Holding a sign that read “Stop holding us hostage” at a busy intersection outside NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Rhodes was among three dozen government employees, including Transportation Security Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs workers, who came out Tuesday to protest the ongoing partial government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history.
Rhodes, a 50-year-old father of two teenagers, said he spends a lot of his time off emailing and calling U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, and his Congressman Pete Olson, all Texas Republicans.
“And I get a little standard response back, ‘Yeah we are working on it.’ But until they feel more pressure from everybody, that’s when they’ll act. Because here’s the thing: We’re out here with no check, but they are getting paid so there’s no incentive for them,” he said.
Olson is showing some empathy. He tweeted Monday that he’s supporting a joint resolution to amend the Constitution to withhold congressional salaries during a shutdown.
Waving signs at motorists who honked their horns in support, the protesting workers chanted “Make America work again!” and “This is what democracy looks like!” Though one man driving a black pickup with a rumbling diesel engine yelled out his window, “It’s them corrupt-ass Democrats!”
The American Federation of Government Employees organized the rally. The union represents hundreds of thousands of government workers, but not all are currently furloughed or working without pay.
AFGE Local 1633 President Michael King said neither he nor any of his fellow Veterans Administration employees have been furloughed. But he came out to support AFGE members who work for NASA. The VA is funded through Sept. 30, the end of fiscal year 2019.
King said he does not understand why Congress cannot temporarily place furloughed workers in jobs in agencies that have not been shut down.
“There’s no reason why anybody has to be furloughed or not being paid when you have vacancies all throughout the federal government to include the VA, where they are still posting the vacancies,” he said.
King continued, “Why don’t you detail some of these people to where they need it and make them work? That’s the right thing to do. I don’t even think they thought about it. It’s like, ‘Let’s just shut it down.’”
As president of AFGE Local 1039, Freddie Cuellar negotiates with the Transportation Security Administration’s management to improve the working conditions of TSA workers at Houston’s Hobby and Bush Intercontinental Airports.
Though a security checkpoint at Bush Airport closed this week due to staffing issues, Cuellar said most Houston TSA workers are still showing up to work. They just aren’t getting paid.
“I would say a lot of them are going through a financial hardship,” Cuellar said. “They are going to have to make tough decisions. There was a young lady who literally had to spend her last dollar on child care and food for this week. So she bought a case of Ramen noodles and a case of water.”
He said many TSA workers are taking on side jobs.
“So let’s say they get off work at 1 pm., from that job they are going to work Uber until they have to pick up their kids from day care,” he said.
Cuellar said he does not expect the shutdown to end any time soon and travelers at airports across the country should prepare for longer lines.
He said TSA employees recently received a $500 bonus from the agency’s administrator “for their hard work over the holidays” and once they spend that, many will be forced to look for other work to pay their bills.
“I’d imagine at the end of this week it’s really going to show its ugly face,” he said.