Federal workers demand government to reopen at Detroit rally

Candice Williams
The Detroit News
Marshia Cordray, 66, of Ypsilanti, an FDA employee, chants "call a vote" along with other furloughed workers during a rally at the McNamara Federal Building in downtown Detroit on Friday.

Detroit — Nearly a month into the partial federal government shutdown, dozens of local furloughed federal employees rallied downtown Friday, calling to get back to work.

“The public needs to understand that this is a problem,” said Cheryl Monroe a 56-year-old chemist for the Federal Drug Administration. “This is serious. While it may not impact them directly, it definitely impacts them indirectly.”

Monroe’s task is to analyze ingredients in pharmaceutical drugs. She said only one or two staffers are in her lab to analyze the ingredients of high-risk drugs.

“Other than that, routine stuff is not going on,” she said. 

Nationwide, 800,000 federal employees are approaching a second payless payday since the shutdown began Dec. 21. Dozens of those employees in Metro Detroit gathered in the cold outside of the McNamara Federal Building to put a face to the issue.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, speaks during a rally of furloughed workers at the McNamara Federal Building in downtown Detroit on Friday.

“I’m in my savings now,” Monroe said. “I’m scared to spend money. I’m scared to do anything more than a day-to-day because I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if the furnace is going to break down, and I’ve got to shell out for that. You’re almost trapped in your life. It’s terrible.”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, offered her support to the federal employees on Friday. She pointed out the catch-22s many workers face, such as how the furlough might cause one to be unable to pay bills impacting their credit rating, which could, in turn, impact their jobs.

“You should not be political hostages,” Dingell said. “We need to put you back to work and protect this country.”

The federal workers called for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to put an end to the government shutdown. They held up signs and chanted “call the vote” and “where’s Mitch?”

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, noted that several bills have been offered for a vote that would reopen the government.

“McConnell doesn’t need the president’s signature to move this,” Tlaib said. “Within 10 days, we could have government up and running.”

Tlaib said with Metro Detroit having the worst air quality in the state, she needs Environmental Protection Agency workers back on duty. She said she needs employees with the Housing and Urban Development to make sure everybody has access to affordable housing.

“Leader McConnell needs to stand up to this bully, and he needs to put the American people first," she said. "More and more Republicans are starting to fold, and they’re starting to be with us, but it takes Leader McConnell to put it up to a vote.”

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, told the crowd that they will not be silenced. 

"This is about our country. This is about the people of the United States. This is about inspecting our food. This is about ensuring that our health care is being processed. This is about our military," she said. "This is about all those things we that hold dear in America. ... This is bigger than this man sitting in the White House. This is bigger than him with his rhetoric."

Employees with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission expressed concerns for citizens who might need their help. 

"People's rights are in danger," said Don Lake, a 35-year-old investigator for the commission. "That is employers and employees."

Stephanie Perkins, a mediator with the commission, noted there are time limits to file complaints, which can't happen if the office is closed.

"I shudder to think about my cases sitting up there waiting for me," said Perkins, pointing to the McNamara Building. 

Lake added: "We have stacks and stacks and stacks of cases on our desks -mediators and investigators - we are tasked with processing. For the past month, they've sat."

"With no end in sight," Perkins said. 


Twitter: @CWilliams_DN