Opinion: Shutdown shows America's devalued workforce

Ron Bieber
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For working people, the first day of every month triggers the start of a regular household bill-paying cycle for recurring monthly bills like rent, car payments and student loans. Working families are falling behind and being harmed because of the shutdown of which President Donald Trump has proudly taken ownership.

The partial shutdown of the federal government has impacted roughly 800,000 federal employees. None of these workers are receiving the paycheck their families depend on at this time. Worse yet, more than half of them (approximately 420,000) are expected to not only continue working, but in many cases work mandatory overtime. Those who are required to work without pay are on the frontlines of public safety, performing jobs as correctional officers, Border Patrol and ICE agents, and transportation security officers. They are putting themselves in harm’s way to protect our nation, and not getting paid for it.

While it’s easy to think of the impact of the shutdown being limited to just Washington, 85 percent of federal employees live outside of the D.C. area. Their loss of income impacts local economies across the country when these workers cut back or stop spending altogether. And that says nothing of the millions of Americans who make use of any of the services offered by the dozens of agencies and departments that are closed or working at reduced capacity.

In the middle of all the damage caused by his shutdown, Trump further harmed federal employees by signing an executive order freezing their 2019 pay increase. He cited the growing budget deficit as the reason for canceling the pay raise. But it’s not these workers who protect their country and provide critical services that are causing the deficit, it’s Trump’s tax cut for the wealthy 1 percent and corporations that is causing budgetary concerns.

Now, even when the government reopens, these hard-working men and women will continue to fall further behind as their pay fails to keep pace with inflation and local economies will continue to suffer even more.

Transportation Security Administration security officers check passengers through security at the Pittsburgh International Airport Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019 in Pittsburgh. As the government shutdown continues, TSA staff work without pay.

And it’s not just federal employees who are being let down. Trump’s deficit-creating tax cut for corporations and the wealthy was sold to the people as being necessary to create job security for American workers. Plenty of private sector employees are also failing to see this increase in job security as well.

After making many grand promises of prosperity to their employees if the tax cut was passed, AT&T announced a round of layoffs for the second December in a row, just as families were preparing to celebrate the holidays. Despite their lack of investment in their workers, AT&T has made billions of dollars from the tax breaks they received.

Other corporations are failing American workers too. General Motors, after being saved by billions of dollars of taxpayer money a decade ago, announced that it would shutter plants and lay off nearly 15,000 workers. After we collectively invested so much in GM, they should be investing in us and investing in their American workers.

This trend of corporations and the wealthy continuing to profit from manipulated tax rules while workers receive empty promises and pink slips must end in 2019. Our economy cannot sustain these lopsided gains. If we want to build long-term, sustainable growth in America, it starts with creating opportunity for all and investing in our American workforce. This year needs to be the year that we start to build an economy that works for everyone in our country.

Ron Bieber is president of the Michigan AFL-CIO.

Labor Voices 

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Gary Jones, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.

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