Federal workers who aren't getting paychecks amid the lingering government shutdown rallied in Boston Friday to call on President Donald Trump to drop his demand for funding for a wall on the southern U.S. border.
Furloughed workers in Post Office Square carrying signs with messages such as "Don't Wall Feds Out" chanted "Let us serve" and "We want to work" in the frigid cold as others described the toll the three-week impasse is beginning to have on their families.
Approximately 800,000 federal workers in the U.S. are affected by the government shutdown, which began Dec. 22 after President Donald Trump and House Democrats failed to come to an agreement on funding for Trump’s long-promised wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
In-depth news coverage of the Greater Boston Area.
About 420,000 federal employees who are deemed essential have continued working since the partial shutdown unpaid. An additional 380,000 have been staying home without pay.
U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, who joined the workers at Friday's rally accused Trump of using federal workers as "hostages" and "pawns" in a political game and said he will forgo his Senate paycheck until all federal workers get paid.
"That is cruel and it is unconscionable that families must suffer because the president has a fantasy which he has been engaging in for the past two years," the Democrat said.
Leiran Biton, a furloughed employee with the Environmental Protection Agency, said if the shutdown lasts for months, he suspects federal workers will start looking for other jobs.
"We're not gonna stick around," he said. "My job has nothing to do with the wall, border security, immigration," said Biton, a 39-year-old with two kids who works in the EPA's air permitting program. "Get me back to work."
In wake of the shutdown, a union representing Environmental Protection Agency workers in New England, AFGE Local 3428, organized Friday’s rally to urge Trump to put an end to the shutdown so they can get back to work.
"Many workers will be forced to apply for state unemployment benefits that will also strain the state unemployment office," said Steve Calder, president of AFGE Local 3428. "Those employees will have to pay that money back, though, if they are paid for their time once the shutdown ends."
Federal prison workers, who are still working but aren't getting paid, held signs that read: "Law enforcement officers are not pawns in your chess game."
David Martinez, who represents workers at a federal prison in Massachusetts, called it a "tragedy" that prison staff must continue to work in dangerous conditions without knowing when their next paycheck will arrive.
"The risk to us hasn't changed one iota. Tonight, here in the commonwealth and across this country where there is a federal prison, my co-workers will go into housing units, they'll be locked in with over 200 sex offenders, murders and drug dealers and they'll be all alone," Martinez said.