DENVER (CBS4)– Federal employees for various government agencies rallied outside the U.S. Custom House in downtown Denver on Thursday afternoon. Their message is to call on Congress and the president to end the shutdown that has put them out of work for almost three weeks.
“I just want to go back to work, I don’t like being a pawn, I have to pay the bills,” said Amy Hensley, a federal government employee. “We just really want to get back to work to support our families.”
Hensley brought her two-year-old daughter, Summer, to the rally. She is the mother of three young children and the breadwinner in the family. She moved to Denver about a year ago after a decade in Washington, D.C. working for the same agency.
“So far we used savings, it’s not going to be enough if it lasts any longer,” she said. “We’re here to make sure it doesn’t last much longer, there’s a lot of anxiety because we just don’t know how long it’s going to last.”
The rally in downtown Denver was one of many across the country including in the nation’s capital. About 800,000 workers have been furloughed or are working without pay as the shutdown will complete its third week on Friday, making it the longest in U.S. history. Agencies affected include the EPA, TSA, and Housing and Urban Development. Employees representing those groups and other federal departments were at the rally.
“The main thing that everyone here wants to do is go back to work for the American people,” said Britta Copt, a federal employee and the president of AFGE Local 3607. “It has a significant financial impact on working families, going without pay and not having time to prepare is a serious hardship.”
The American Federation of Government Employees represents many of the workers at the rally in Denver and those affected by the shutdown. Protesting outside a federal building downtown, organizers wanted to single out and thank Sen. Cory Gardner. He was the first Republican in the Senate to oppose the shutdown. Many pointed their anger at Senate Leader Mitch McConnell because they believe he is preventing a resolution to the shutdown.
“The longer this goes on, the harder it gets for everyone,” said Copt. “It’s really important for everyone to understand that federal employees are here to work for the public, not to carry out some political mission.”
Many of the workers had signs or voiced their frustration toward political leaders for using them as a “convenient pawn” in this battle over funding for border security and a wall between U.S. and Mexico. Their anger heightened by the fact that many of them work for agencies that offer protection and security to the country on a daily basis. Other workers pointing out that they help keep the country safe and healthy for all Americans.
“The wall has nothing to do with my job and so holding my job hostage is not the right thing to do for the wall,” said Hensley. “I don’t see a lot of progress, I really wish people would talk and listen to each other so we could get somewhere and we could get back to work.”
The rally ended with a march around the building, Hensley pushing her daughter in a stroller while carrying a sign. Relying on their savings has covered her family so far but she worries about the next rent check. She estimates they can handle another week or two before the situation will become even tougher for the family.
“I wanted people to know that the furloughs hurt families, it’s not just a political statement it’s hurting real families,” she said. “I like my job, it’s important, it’s important for the country, so I want to get back to doing it.”