Detroit area federal workers face first missed paycheck

Detroit — Air traffic controllers at Detroit Metropolitan Airport received their pay stubs Thursday amid the partial federal government shutdown. The only problem: they were in the amount of "$0.00."

Mike Redies, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association union's local at Detroit Metro, said he and 40 other employees in the air traffic control tower at Michigan's biggest commercial airport received pay stubs confirming they will receive no money for their upcoming Jan. 15 paychecks. 

"I wasn't sure there would be pay stubs, because there's nothing to pay," he said. "We knew it was unlikely that we were going to get paid because obviously, the news would have let us know the government reopened. ... It's not like they don't have the money, they're just not authorized to spend it." 

Against the backdrop of the $0 pay stubs, federal employees from Metro Detroit gathered Thursday in downtown Detroit to rally in the face of financial hardship brought on by the partial government shutdown.

Transportation Security Administration worker Jasmin Lauri said she's already been unable to cover her bills and had to turn to her mother for financial help. 

"We're doing our job to the best of our ability and we're being treated like pawns in something we have no control over," said Lauri, a Dearborn resident who has worked as a security screener at Detroit Metropolitan Airport for close to 16 years. 

"A lot of my coworkers are at their wits' ends. They are wondering how they are going to pay for their parking, pay for their gas, feed their children," she said. "It's not fair to me and my coworkers. I just want to get paid to do my job."

The rally was among several organized by unions around the country Thursday, as hundreds of thousands of federal employees prepared to miss their first paychecks this week.

The shutdown will enter its 21st day Friday, tying the record for the longest shutdown in history. 

In Washington, U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, joined protesters marching from the AFL-CIO building to the street in front of the White House. 

"Stop the shutdown now!" the marchers chanted.

Levin told The Detroit News in an interview after the rally that he participated to support federal workers.

"Payless payday," said Levin, who is a former AFL-CIO employee. "It's an outrage. It makes me so angry. ... That's why I came to Congress, to support the workers of the U.S."  

Dearborn's Lauri is among about 800,000 workers nationwide furloughed or forced to work without pay during the partial shutdown, which went into effect at midnight Dec. 21.

Michigan is home to about 53,000 federal workers, including Postal Service workers as of June 2017, according to Governing Magazine. That includes an estimated 5,000 civilians and 1,000 Coast Guard employees going unpaid during the shutdown.

The protest outside the McNamara Federal Building on Michigan Avenue was organized by the American Federation of Government Employees and had representation from federal agencies throughout the region, including airport security staff, the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Defense. 

Dozens of workers chanted together "Do your job, so we can do ours," displaying signs calling for an end to the shutdown. The hand-written messages included "Do What's Right" and "Pay Us For Our Work."

President Donald Trump visited the U.S.-Mexico border Thursday in an attempt to make his case for $5.7 billion in border wall and security funding after negotiations with Democrats stalled Wednesday over his funding demands. 

Trump campaigned on the border wall as a means of combating illegal immigration, human trafficking and drug activity. The president has threatened to declare a national emergency in an attempt to bypass congressional approval in the case that he can't reach a deal with Democrats. 

“This is common sense. They need a barrier. They need a wall," Trump told reporters Thursday while visiting the banks of the Rio Grande in the Texas town of Mission.

"This shouldn’t be happening in our country.”

Democrats oppose Trump's proposed wall or steel barrier, with some officials calling it ineffective or immoral. 

Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, said that, while Congress can pass legislation to reopen the government, "the president doesn't want to do that." 

"The idea that this argument is the one that would shut the government down when we have many other issues we agree on — the president just wants a fight," Kildee said.

"He wants a fight to distract from what has been some pretty damning revelations lately in terms of the information we're finding out about the various investigations into him. Stepping back from it, to look at it any other way is stretching it."

Agencies affected by the shutdown include the Internal Revenue Service and departments of Agriculture, Transportation, State, Interior, Homeland Security and Justice.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, noted Thursday that the weather computer watching over Enbridge’s controversial Line 5 oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac was offline.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan can continue operating through Jan. 18 using leftover funds, so court staff still are reporting to work and expecting to receive regular paychecks Jan. 11 and 25, spokesman David Ashenfelter said.

Gregory Simpkins, president of AFGE Local 788, said his fellow TSA workers got partial pay a couple of  weeks ago. But from here on out, no money is coming in until the shutdown ends. 

"The panic mode has started weeks prior to this, but reality has really sunk in right now," Simpkins said. "My message to my people is to stay focused, remember the mission."

EPA worker, Gary Dolce joined in the protest in Detroit, saying he's been off work on a furlough for the last couple of weeks. On Thursday, workers for that division expected to receive a final, partial paycheck, he said. 

The shutdown jeopardizes pending projects and contracts funded by taxpayers, said Dolce, who monitors air pollution out of the EPA's Ann Arbor office.

"The most important thing to me is I want to get back to work," he said. "I want to get back to what I'm being paid for by the federal government by the people of this country."

"We're proud civil servants," added Gloria Helfand, another EPA worker currently off work. "We do good for this country."

Redies, meanwhile, said air traffic controllers have been "very professional" about the situation, putting the safety of airline passengers ahead of their feelings about the shutdown. He noted he has not observed mass sick call-outs like other federal agencies, such as the TSA, have reported. 

"Safety is our top priority," he said. "If at some point we're not able to operate at the capacity we are used to, we'll reduce capacity. We're not going to compromise on safety."

Associated Press contributed.