WASHINGTON – Federal Communications Commission employee Ronald Cunningham wants to keep his Ford truck. He’s only owned it for three months. But he has been furloughed for nearly three weeks as part of the partial federal government shutdown and says if he is not paid soon, he may have to give up the vehicle.
“It just doesn’t feel fair,” he said. “I’m here today because this is my union, and I just want to go back to work.”
Cunningham was one of many federal workers, union members and supporters who protested the government shutdown at a rally Thursday.
Speakers at the event — who included members of Congress and labor union leaders — largely blamed Senate Republicans and President Donald Trump for the shutdown. Few mentioned the border wall. Rather, the rally was a catalog of the suffering of federal workers and urgent, collective outcry to open the government.
The AFL-CIO, National Treasury Employees Union, National Federation of Federal Employees and other unions sponsored the protest. The NTEU has filed two lawsuits protesting the constitutionality of forcing people to come to work without pay.
“We wake this country up every single day, and we put it to bed at night,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka yelled to the crowd gathered in the cold. They cheered loudly in response to his speech.
“We are tired of being pawns. We are tired of being the ones who always get hurt, and we are not going to take it, and we are gonna remember. We are gonna remember,” said Trumka.
Congressional leaders and union members were unified in their messaging: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Trump are to blame.
“What if I ran for president of the United States and I said, ‘I’m going to shut down your government?’” asked House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. The crowd booed in response.
Horatio Fenton, an IRS employee who said he came from Philadelphia with 104 other members of his union, said he was heartened by the number of lawmakers who attended or spoke at the event.
“It’s good to know that we have people who identified with us, and who know exactly what we’re going through, not being able to pay our bills,” Fenton said.
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees President Lee Saunders was blunt: “[President Trump] doesn’t know anything about the dignity of work.”
“No one chooses a career in the federal government to get rich.” Saunders continued. “You do it because you care. You do it because you care and you love your country.”
One of the few who mentioned the border security justification for the shutdown, Saunders called it a “manufactured crisis, an imaginary security threat.. based on fear, based on paranoia.”
After the speeches, the crowd marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. They chanted, “End this lockout, right now!” and “End the shutdown, end the shutdown!”