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On the backs of working people

New York Teacher

There are truths about the human cost of the 34-day federal government shutdown that we should remember for a long time to come.

Some 800,000 federal workers were furloughed and endured weeks of uncertainty and financial hardship. Some had to live on credit cards or skip mortgage payments. Others filed for unemployment, turned to food banks or sought side jobs such as driving a cab or working a cash register for a little cash flow to keep food on the table and pay a few bills. A few launched online GoFundMe campaigns asking for donations. At least one federal worker had to ration insulin.

The UFT made a contribution to help these federal workers and set up an online donation form to facilitate member contributions during the shutdown.

Meanwhile, workers in critical jobs — air traffic controllers, airport security workers, food inspectors, secret service agents and IRS employees — were not furloughed but didn’t get paychecks either.

While absenteeism ticked up, the vast majority of these workers continued working day in and day out without pay despite serving a president who showed only callousness for their plight.

“They believe in public service; they believe in what they do,” said an official with the American Federation of Government Employees, the union that represents federal workers.

President Trump owes a debt of gratitude to these dedicated federal workers, as do we all.

But they are not out of the woods yet. The president only agreed on Jan. 25 to reopen government for three weeks while talks continue on his demand for funding for a border wall.

Policy debates, however contentious, should never be the cause of a government shutdown. It’s vital that federal employees be spared further suffering.

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