Democrats Try to Stop Eviction of Unpaid Federal Workers

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

With landlords preparing eviction notices for unpaid federal workers – and their families – from rental housing and banks scheming to repossess their cars for unpaid loans, Senate Democrats are trying to stop the pain.

The legislation by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, drew support from 24 other Democrats, including Minority Leader Charles Schumer. Two top union leaders who represent federal workers, Tony Reardon of the Treasury Employees (NTEU) and Paul Shearon of the Professional and Technical Employees (IFPTE), strongly support it.

The legislation may not come up for a vote in January, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., allowed two votes on measures to end GOP President Donald Trump’s month-long lockout/shutdown of federal workers and their agencies.

Egged on by right-wing radio talk show hosts, House Republicans and his own staff, Trump shut several Cabinet departments and related agencies at midnight Dec. 21 after agreeing to, and then welshing on, a measure to keep them open through the rest of this fiscal year.

Instead, Trump demanded lawmakers give him $5.7 billion to build a wall on the Mexican border before he’d reopen the government.

Trump sent some 350,000 workers home without pay and forced 450,000 others, including federal fire fighters, airport screeners and IRS workers, to toil without pay since then.

It’s those workers, minus two paychecks now, who are facing eviction, auto repossession, ruined credit and other problems because they have no money to pay bills. These are the workers who Schatz, Schumer and the other Democrats are trying to help.

"Amidst another push to open the government, I am fighting with my colleagues for necessary financial protections for impacted federal workers during this shutdown and for workers of any future shutdown, because no federal public servant should have their financial well-being held hostage by a president unwilling to simply open the government in the middle of a debate," Schumer said. 

"While the president and Senate Republicans struggle to get their act together, real people are suffering,” said Schatz. “Right now, thousands of federal workers and their families are struggling to pay rent and make ends meet. It’s absolutely unacceptable. Our bill will protect federal workers and make sure they aren’t harmed because of a political stunt.”

 

The Schatz-Schumer bill, the Federal Employee Civil Relief Act, would bar landlords and creditors from taking action against federal workers or contractors hurt by the government shutdown and unable to pay rent or repay loans, a Schatz fact sheet says.

The measure is modeled after legislation that already covers families of military service members. It would also empower federal workers to sue creditors or landlords that violate this protection. One co-sponsor, Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said she’ll try to insert it in funding bills coming up for votes.

“People who took an oath to serve their country as federal employees should not have to worry about being evicted, having their car repossessed or going further into debt because of a government shutdown,” said Reardon, whose union represents many of the workers, notably the IRS workers, whom Trump has ordered back on the job to toil without pay.

The measure “would protect the nation’s federal workforce, many of whom are suffering after nearly three weeks without pay. The Federal Employee Civil Relief Act would give frontline federal workers a reasonable amount of time to catch up on their bills once the shutdown ends and their income is restored. Federal employees around the country are grateful there are members of Congress who are looking out for them in their time of need.”

Shearon’s union, IFPTE, lauded Schumer, Schatz and House Democratic sponsor Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., “for authoring this critically important bill.” His union includes engineers, scientists and – ironically – immigration judges who face an enormous caseload of applicants waiting the enter the U.S. and whose cases can’t get judged because Trump has shut down their agency.

“This legislation will provide much needed relief to federal employees who may be facing civil actions against them due to a lapse in pay that has resulted because of the government shutdown. It is truly unfortunate that President Trump is using these civilian workers and their families as political pawns to achieve a political goal,” Shearon added.

“The real-life ramifications on these working Americans are hard choices between feeding their families, and meeting other financial obligations. The Federal Employee Civil Relief Act will provide impacted workers additional time after a shutdown to meet their financial obligations that would otherwise result in actions against them such as eviction, foreclosure and other civil claims.”

But while Schumer, Schatz and Co., come to the aid of the feds, two other large groups of people hurt by the shutdown are, so far, out in the cold, and many not be made whole even when, or if, the government reopens.

One is contract workers – janitors, fast food workers, security guards and their colleagues, many of them represented by the Service Employees. They’re not federal workers, so the Schumer-Schatz bill doesn’t cover them. Nor does legislation Trump signed Jan. 16 saying federal workers would get retroactive back pay. Maryland’s two Democratic senators and Sen. Tina Smith, DFL-Minn., are trying to get pay retroactivity for contract workers, too.

But another large group of people – recipients of federal housing Section 8 vouchers and other aid to low-income people -- also face auto repossession and eviction notices. Landlords are demanding Section 8 renters pay full freight, replacing the federal Housing Department subsidies the landlords usually get.

Otherwise, those poor could be out on the street as early as February.

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Steel for Wind Power

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities. 

Siemens Gamesa last month laid off 130 workers at its turbine blade manufacturing plant in Iowa, just months after GE Renewable Energy decided to close an Arkansas factory and eliminate 470 jobs.

The companies reported shrinking demand for their products, even though U.S. consumption of wind energy increases every year.

America’s prosperity depends not only on harnessing this crucial energy source but also ensuring that highly skilled U.S. workers build the components with the cleanest technology available.

Right now, the nation relies on imported steel and turbine components from foreign manufacturers like China while America’s own steel industry—well equipped for this production—struggles because of dumping and other unfair trade practices.

Steel makes up the bulk of turbine hubs and the wind towers themselves. It’s also used to make the cranes and platforms necessary for installing the towers.

Yet the potential boon to America’s steel industry is just one reason to ramp up domestic production of wind energy infrastructure.

American steel production ranks among the cleanest in the world, while China has the highest carbon emissions of any steelmaking nation and flouts environmental regulations.

The nation’s highly-skilled steelmaking workforce must play an essential role in the deeply-needed revitalization and modernization of the nation’s failing infrastructure. Producing the components for harnessing wind energy domestically and cleanly is an important step that will put Americans to work and position the United States to be world leaders in this growing industry.

 

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work