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Steve Griffin, KSL

IRS workers furloughed by government shutdown rally in Utah

By Lisa Riley Roche, KSL | Updated - Jan 10th, 2019 @ 2:43pm | Posted - Jan 10th, 2019 @ 1:41pm

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OGDEN — Internal Revenue Service employees furloughed by the federal government shutdown had a simple message Thursday for Washington at a rally Thursday outside the James V. Hansen Federal Building.

"We want to work," the 100 or so people gathered in a light snow chanted again and again, urging the government to end the now 20-day-old shutdown sparked by an impasse over President Donald Trump's demand for border wall funding.

"We are dedicated to our work and believe in what we do. We are not volunteers," Shelly Carver, National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 67 treasurer, told the crowd, asking "Congress and the administration to take us out of the political game."

Federal workers "do not ask to be pawns and we do not deserve it," she said. "We don't want to be a bargaining chip for Congress or the administration. We really just want the government to reopen so we can get back to doing our jobs."

Some three-quarters of the 5,000 employees at the Ogden IRS campus that handles taxpayer questions, process returns and deal with compliance issues have been furloughed and are expected to miss their first paychecks on Monday.

Other federal workers deemed essential are on the job but are also not being paid, including air traffic controllers and Transportation Safety Administration airport security agents.

"We need to get back to work. We need to have the doors open. America needs us back to work," Matt Westrich, an information technology worker for the IRS and union member, told the rally crowd.

Westrich and others also offered advice for workers strapped by the prospect of going without pay while negotiations between Congress and the president continue to sputter, including applying for unemployment and taking out loans.

The Utah Department of Workforce Services estimates that approximately 2,450 unemployment claims have come from federal employees impacted by the government shutdown, according to spokeswoman Bethany Hyatt.

She said there's been a 39 percent increase from 2017 to 2018 in claims made between the dates of Dec. 22 and Jan. 7, and that the claims take two to three weeks to process.

"The shutdown is hurting you. It is hurting me. It is hurting our families, and it is hurting our communities," Carver said at the rally, because federal employees aren't frequenting local businesses.

At least one restaurant along Ogden's 25th Street had closed early because business had fallen off due to the shutdown. Another, Great Harvest Bread Co., had a steady stream of federal workers taking up the owner on an offer of a free loaf of bread.

Tears streamed down the face of Diane Zelazny as she tried to explain her frustration. Her sign read, "Quit throwing government and military workers under the bus" and referred to Congress and the president.

"I blame them all because they can't come to a compromise. We need our jobs. We do," the customer service representative said. "I'm lucky. I have a supportive spouse but a lot of my co-workers don't. They live on a single income."

A single mother, Shelby Harris was at the rally with her 14-year-old daughter, who had attempted suicide last October and requires counseling and medication. Harris said she was already struggling to afford those costs on her $50,000 annual salary.

"Those are not luxuries," Harris said of her daughter's needs. "Do I make the co-payments for counseling or do I buy laundry detergent? You start buying cheaper meals. There’s a lot of ramen and macaroni and cheese."

The sign on the stroller of nearly 6-year-old Luke read, "Formula ain't free." His father, Tyler Fralia, a customer service representative, said people need to know families can't afford the shutdown.

"I just want them to know we're human beings. We're not political bargaining chips. All we want to do is work and provide for our families. That's it," he said. "A lot of us don't have that safety net like rich people do in D.C. We live paycheck to paycheck."

Twelve-year-old Taylor Kirkpatrick, who stood throughout the hourlong rally with a sign reading, "Let My Mommy Work," said her family couldn't do things they enjoy like "eat out and stuff" because of the shutdown.


Lisa Riley Roche

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