Wednesday marked the fifth day of a partial federal government shutdown, initiated in part because of a disagreement between congressional leaders and the White House over border wall funding. After President Trump claimed over Christmas that federal employees support the shutdown, the largest government employee union responded to the shutdown, setting the record straight.
"They understand what’s happening. They want border security," Trump said during an Oval Office press spray on Tuesday. "Many of those workers have said to me and communicated, 'Stay out until you get the funding for the wall.' These federal workers want the wall."
The reaction from the American Federation of Government Employees, a union of more than 700,000 federal employees, could not have been farther from the president's statement. "They unequivocally oppose using shutdowns as a means of resolving policy disputes," Union President Jeffrey David Cox Sr. said in a statement. "This is not about a wall, this is about 800,000 real people with real families and real bills to pay." He added, "They are eager to get back to work."
The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, a union which represents over 80,000 workers across the United States and Canada, including American federal employees, took a similarly hardline stance. "We have not heard from a single member who supports the President’s inaction," Union President Paul Shearon said in a statement. "Most view this as an act of ineptitude."
Last week, negotiations over border security funding reached an impasse. Essentially, Trump has been demanding $5 billion for a wall and Democrats are open to a $1.3 billion border security package, but not a wall. With no decision reached, 25 percent of the federal government — including the State, Transportation, Agriculture, and Justice Departments — ran out of funding on Friday at midnight, initiating a partial shutdown.
Many government agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Energy, were already funded earlier this year, meaning they are not affected.
According to NPR, almost 400,000 federal workers are currently furloughed (told not to come in to work) and another 400,000 are temporarily working without pay. That second group comprises essential government workers, like TSA and border patrol agents, drug enforcement officials, and Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid employees.
The Coast Guard, which belongs to Homeland Security (unlike other branches of the military, which fall under the Department of Defense), is among those working without pay. Emily Garris, the wife of a Coast Guard member, told NBC that the shutdown has left a lot of Coast Guard families financially stressed around the holidays.
"People who serve in the Coast Guard don’t do it for the riches. They do it because they love our country," she told the outlet. "And for us to just be cast aside, this is hurtful. We put so much on the line every day."
In the border security funding negotiation stalemate, neither Democratic leaders nor Trump appear to be backing down, indicating that the shutdown could continue into the new year. "Nancy is calling the shots," Trump said during a surprise visit to troops in Iraq on Wednesday, referencing House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who views the border wall as an unnecessary scare tactic, CNBC reported. Asked how long he would wait out a shutdown to ensure the wall, Trump replied, "Whatever it takes."