A manufactured crisis

By Tom Chamberlain, Oregon AFL-CIO president

Eight hundred thousand workers. That is the number of government employees and contractors impacted by President Trump’s shutdown of the federal government. The average take home pay of impacted workers is around $500 per week, and any financial uncertainty is sure to cause stress and anxiety over how to make ends meet. Each day of this manufactured crisis, working families lose money for housing, healthcare and groceries — the essentials we need to get by. These 800,000 workers are in all 50 states and include air traffic controllers and transportation security officers from Portland to Medford. Workers at national parks across the west are furloughed. The shutdown’s impact goes beyond the actual employees of the government as well: Countless Americans feel the impact of this dangerous stalemate. 

Working people and their livelihoods should never be used as political pawns, but that is exactly what the shutdown has become due to President Trump’s incessant demand for $5.7 billion to start building a wall along our nation’s southern border. The fact of the matter is that walls and enforcement-only policies such as the workplace raids, cruel family separations, and massive deportations we have seen from the Trump Administration escalate fear. These policies and actions divide us.  They inspire campaigns like Ballot Measure 105, which Oregonians squarely defeated last year. They embolden prejudice in communities across the nation. They push people underground, into a shadow economy where unscrupulous employers take advantage of a climate of fear to undermine the rights of migrant workers. It is far too common and is exactly why union members across the country stand united against fear and division, while fighting for a better tomorrow for all working people.

The American union movement advocates for an agenda designed to lift workers up and improve our nation instead of pushing people apart. We know that strength and prosperity come from standing together. We have called for comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship — an essential step to protecting all workers’ freedom to join together in a union without fear. We have stood with our allies in calling for the Administration and the new Congress to work together to pass immigration legislation that keeps families united, protects workers’ rights, restricts temporary worker’s programs, and gives Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients a pathway to becoming citizens. Finally, instead of focusing on building a wall, the Administration and the new Congress should work together to fund desperately needed infrastructure projects across our country. Investing the $5.7 billion that President Trump is demanding for his wall in repairing roads, bridges and rail transit would create well-paying jobs in local communities.

The women and men who go to work everyday in service to the United States government want to do their jobs. They believe in working hard for our country and for their fellow Americans. Holding their paychecks hostage over a funding dispute takes advantage of federal workers’ commendable work ethic and passion for country and fellow citizen. The partial shutdown of our Government has made it clear that the real crisis is not on the southern border; it’s in the Oval Office. 

The Oregon AFL-CIO is a 138,000-member-strong federation of labor unions.

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