Union Asks for Shutdown to Be Deemed an Emergency

Union boss calls for employees to be allowed to skip loan payments, receive free gas

October 15, 2013

A federal workers union is demanding that President Barack Obama declare the shutdown a national emergency and force businesses, hospitals, and schools to forgive workers’ bill payments until a deal is reached.

American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox sent a letter to Obama on Friday lamenting that the lengthy shutdown would hurt government workers. He proposed that the White House intervene to declare the shutdown a federal emergency, which would allow workers to collect zero-interest loans from FEMA and force businesses to extend lines of credit to employees.

"Mr. President, we ask that you … call upon the financial and business community to provide arrangements for skip mortgage payments, skip rent payments, skip car loan payments, skip education and other loan payments until this is all over [sic]," the letter states.

Cox also asks that federal workers receive free healthcare, gasoline, public transportation, and utilities until "their paychecks have been restored."

Federal workers collected half-paychecks for their last pay period and will not be paid again until after the shutdown ends. House Republicans passed legislation that would allow workers to receive retroactive pay, which would provide workers with lump sum checks at the end of the shutdown.

Federal workers have turned to unemployment insurance to make up for the delayed income: 26,000 new claims have been filed in Maryland and D.C. in the past few weeks. The workers will have to pay back those benefits once their checks are restored under the GOP proposal.

Cox adds that the lump sums are not enough, asking the president to treat the shutdown as paid-time-off in which employees collect full paychecks without coming to work.

The administration, Cox writes, should "immediately advise agency managers to stop coercing and compelling employees to come to work without a paycheck."

"Government employees cannot tolerate further cuts. Enough is enough," Cox writes. "Other Americans, particularly the wealthy and large corporations, have not been asked to contribute their fair share."

AFGE represents more than 700,000 federal and District of Columbia workers and is also a member of the politically powerful AFL-CIO. AFGE’s Political Action Committee spent more than $1.1 million in the 2012 election cycle with nearly all of that money going to boost Democrats.

The government has been shut down for two weeks, as the White House has refused to negotiate with Congressional Republicans who have attempted to defund or delay Obamacare. Senate Republicans and Democrats are negotiating a plan to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.