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'This is just wrong,' Federal workers rally in Loop, as government shutdown stretches into 20th day

Chicago Tribune

Colleagues and friends Mirtha Capiro and Chris Black have worked together for more than two decades.

Thursday afternoon, the two environmental scientists were together again, showing up in the Loop with about 75 other federal workers who gathered for a rally in Federal Plaza to end the partial government shutdown.

They didn’t even plan on going as a pair, but Black and Capiro ended up being among the last to leave. It was their 14th day of furlough from their EPA offices in the Loop.

“We’re dedicated to the work we do, which is protecting human health and the environment,’’ said Capiro.

“We’re happy to support each other.’’

The workers, from border and customs agents to prison guards and agriculture agency employees, converged on Chicago’s Loop at noon.

The noon rally was sponsored by the largest union that represents federal workers, the American Federation of Government Employees.

The shutdown, triggered by President Donald Trump’s insistence on funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, was in its 20th day Thursday. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers were expected to miss paychecks Friday, with a little more than half of them still working but without pay. Other key federal services are suspended, including some food inspections, as budgets for numerous federal agencies haven’t been passed and signed into law yet. Federal employee unions have held rallies in other states and Washington, D.C., this week, in some cases working with Democratic leaders to try to highlight what they say are the effects of the shutdown.

AFGE District 7 represents federal employees in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, including at agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture, the Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Homeland Security, all of which are affected by the shutdown.

Mike Mikulka, an EPA employee and President of AFGE Local 704, said at the rally that “we were furloughed Dec. 31.”

“This is just wrong,” he told the crowd. “We are ready, willing and able” to work.

Matt Muchowski of the AFGE addressed those who had arrived for the rally by a little after noon, admonishing Trump:

“Do not punish federal employees!”

“Do not punish the public,” he said to cheers.

Muchowski said the union plans to hold rallies every Thursday at noon in Federal Plaza for as long as necessary.

Among those at the rally was the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

“Workers want jobs, not walls,” said Jackson, who then led a chant as the crowd loudly repeated, “Jobs not walls! Jobs not walls! Jobs not walls!”

Florence Cannon, representing a branch of the USDA, revved up the crowd saying, “We want to go back to work now!”

Malcolm Alexander-Neal, a risk analyst for the Commodities Futures Trading Commission in Chicago, attended the rally clutching a sign that read: I am a federal employee. This is my 20th day of being locked out of my job.

"We have very meaningful jobs. I'm really upset,’’ Alexander-Neal said.

Alexander-Neal, who will not be getting a paycheck Friday, says the timing was brutal and his mortgage and credit card bills are going to be late.

“It was just Christmas,’’ Alexander-Neal said. “This is a horrible time.’’

Capiro and Black are anxious to get back to being officemates. For now, for now all they have is a 1-800 number and a website to check the status of their jobs. They can’t even check their work email.

“I’m frustrated,’ Black said. “We want to work.’’

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