Some DHS employees speak out in opposition to the shutdown

As the partial government shutdown wrapped up its third week, some employees and unions within the Departmen...

Posted: Jan 15, 2019 12:27 AM
Updated: Jan 15, 2019 12:27 AM

As the partial government shutdown wrapped up its third week, some employees and unions within the Department of Homeland Security -- the agency at the center of the federal funding debate -- voiced frustrations with President Donald Trump's strategy and the loss of pay.

Around 85% of DHS employees are either working with their pay on hold or are furloughed, according to a DHS official, and will not receive paychecks unless Trump signs the measure Congress has passed specifically authorizing it.

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On his way to visit the southern border Thursday, the President said that "the people that will be paid, but maybe a little bit later, those people, many of them are on my side. They want to see border security."

While some within DHS have publicly supported the shutdown, it's clearly not a universal sentiment.

"It's not OK to say that all federal employees support this shutdown. We don't. To say that is irresponsible and careless," said Paul Garcia, legislative political coordinator for American Federation of Government Employees Local 1929 of the National Border Patrol Council.

Garcia, who lives in El Paso, Texas, was pushing back against Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement union leadership, which stood with Trump at the White House last week in support of his efforts for a border wall -- the main sticking point between congressional Democrats and the White House over government funding.

"We are still dealing with the massive influx of the migrants. The powers that be, high-ranking union officials, they need to come up with the solution. Additionally, I have many brothers and sisters in this union who are really affected by this shutdown," Garcia said.

Brandon Judd, the president of the National Border Patrol Council, said last week that "there's also a lot of talk on the shutdown that federal employees do not agree with the shutdown. I will tell you, that's not true."

The National Border Patrol Council, which says it is the exclusive representative of about 18,000 Border Patrol agents and support personnel, has been an ardent backer of the President, including offering its first-ever presidential endorsement to Trump in 2016.

ICE's union did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

The Border Patrol union sent CNN a statement from Judd after publication, which said, in part, "Undoubtedly, there are some members who are opposed to the shutdown, as we represent many employees, however, the overwhelming majority of agents are supportive of President Trump's efforts to secure our border. The NBPC boasts a 89% voluntary membership rate amongst border patrol agents. That compares to AFGE's less than 50% membership rate. We know that we represent the voice of the rank-and-file agents."

DHS Press Secretary Tyler Q. Houlton said that "the secretary shares the frustration of DHS employees who are going without pay. She is working tirelessly to reach a solution that will pay all DHS employees and end the humanitarian and security crisis on the border."

As of Monday, no breakthroughs had been found to end the shutdown.

'Confusion and anxiety'

Ryan Baugh, an AFGE local union leader who works at the DHS Office of Immigration Statistics in Washington, told CNN that while there are important debates going on "there should be some mechanism in place to allow folks to continue to do the important work they were hired to do and have a way to support their families."

On the first day of the shutdown, Baugh said, he tried to find out whether the ethics office -- responsible for determining whether outside work is allowable -- would be open throughout the shutdown.

He never got a clear answer.

"Confusion and anxiety are the words of the day right now," he said.

Another DHS employee described feeling "depressed, stressed out, anxious, uncomfortable, insecure" over the shutdown.

"Yes," their colleagues feel the same way, said the employee.

The federal worker questioned how keeping paychecks from the workforce helps security efforts.

"That does not make me feel safer as an American citizen, it makes me feel less secure," said the employee, who was not authorized to speak publicly. "I believe in border security, but I think it's inappropriate to hold federal employees hostages over the situation."

It "feels like the priorities are off," the DHS employee added.

Another DHS employee, who also spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity, said they woke up this week to social media posts by people who support a shutdown in order to get the wall.

"I'm done," said the employee.

"If you think the wall will measurably make us a safer country, then you are just blinded by fear. I can live with that. But if you boldly and publicly declare that you support several hundred thousand Americans to be adversely impacted so you can get what you want when there are thousands of other ways to go about it, then you are worse than stupid. You are cruel and two-faced," said the employee.

The employee said they were speaking up for those in and out of government "tragically" injured by the lapse in government funding.

Long days = big child care costs

The loss of pay will have a huge impact on DHS employees, said Tony Reardon, the national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 workers in 33 departments and agencies, including Customs and Border Protection officers, agricultural specialists and trade enforcement specialists who work at ports of entry.

Customs and Border Protection is the largest component agency under the Department of Homeland Security, according to the department's shutdown contingency staffing plan.

"This shutdown, even if it lasts a total of, say, days, two weeks or a month or whatever it lasts, the impact on employees is going to haunt them for a very, very long time. I'm talking about years," Reardon said.

Customs and Border Protection oversees the US Border Patrol but has different union representation.

The timing of federal pay can vary, but for many employees this week "unfortunately the pay envelope will be empty," said Reardon. "The direct deposit won't happen."

The first missed paycheck for DHS employees came Friday, according to a department official.

"CBP officers, they are angered by the fact that they are required to work throughout the shutdown and not be paid, because they recognize they are doing important security and important trade and travel work for the country, so to not be paid adds insult to injury," said Reardon.

The "injury" is the President's executive order last month that freezes federal workers' pay for 2019, canceling a 2.1% across-the-board pay raise that had been set to take effect in January.

The National Treasury Employees Union filed a lawsuit Wednesday arguing that it's unconstitutional to force federal employees to work without pay.

Many federal workers are like any other middle-class families with college tuitions, day care expenses and bills to pay, said Reardon. Customs and Border Protection employees face some specific challenges as well. For example, "there is a huge staffing shortage," resulting in required overtime -- sometimes 16-hour days, at times more than one day in a row.

"Because of that, child care tends to be a huge expense," said Reardon. "They've got to pay the day care provider."

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