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As shutdown looms, federal employees in Chicago protest

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Updated: November 2, 2013 6:20AM



Unionized federal workers bracing for a government shutdown angrily called on Congress to end its budgetary stalemate Monday, saying furloughs would hurt the economy and the delivery of important services.

Members of the American Federation of Government Employees staged a lunch-hour rally at Federal Plaza, 230 S. Dearborn.

“We have dedicated public servants here. They’re basically being used as guinea pigs,” said Mike Mikulka, an environmental engineer and a vice president of the union. “Lawmakers had all summer to do their job and fund the government.”

Mikulka said that with the shutdown looming, he was ordered not to travel to northern Wisconsin to supervise cleanup of an arsenic-laced site. As a result, the work will be delayed, he said.

A shutdown of federal services deemed nonessential to national security and public health and safety would affect about 800,000 employees nationally. The impact on Illinois, home to 52,000 federal workers, is believed to involve tens of thousands of jobs.

Most federal jobs in Illinois are tied to its three military installations, including Naval Station Great Lakes near North Chicago and two Downstate — Rock Island Arsenal and Scott Air Force Base.

The closure would not involve sworn members of the military but would cover about half the 800,000 civilians who support them.

Capt. Dustin Cammack, a public affairs officer for the Illinois National Guard, said about 1,200 employees of the Guard are subject to furlough, most of them military technicians at the bases, the Springfield headquarters or an aviation facility at Midway Airport. The Guard has 10,500 people working in Illinois, he said.

Many other federal services would continue unabated, such as air traffic controls and processing Social Security checks.

Members of AFGE used their rally to give notice about other services that, if withdrawn, could hurt the public.

Environmental Protection Agency inspections of wastewater treatment and drinking water would end, as will probes of hazards in the workplace, said John O’Grady, president of AFGE Local 704. He said the EPA has about 1,000 employees in Chicago, most of them due to go home if a shutdown occurs.

“It’s going to cost the government money to shut it down and money to start it up again,” he said.

Brent Barron, president of the union’s Local 648 and a workers’ compensation claims examiner with the U.S. Department of Labor, said he falls into a category of workers who would be expected to report but might not get paid.

Labor Department aides who compute the unemployment numbers will themselves be jobless, Barron said. He also said a long shutdown could affect unemployment compensation checks, which are sent out by states but involve federal money.

About 80 members of the union marched around the plaza and carried signs. “They say cut back, we say fight back,” was among their slogans.

The direct financial hit to federal workers would be delayed. AFGE members said they will be paid Tuesday, with the next check not due until Oct. 15. That would be the first check to reflect any reduced salary from a shutdown.



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