Democratic Lawmakers Invite Formerly Furloughed Workers To SOTU

Several federal workers affected by the partial government shutdown were invited to attend President Donald Trump's State of the Union address.

Several Democratic lawmakers announced plans on Monday to take federal workers who were furloughed during the partial government shutdown as their guests to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address this week.

“It’s time to send a message to President Trump and Senate Republicans: federal and contract workers are the backbone of our economy and their livelihoods should never be used as pawns in Republican political games,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said in a statement.

She said she invited Sajid Shahriar, a labor leader and an employee of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to join her for the address.

Shahriar was one of roughly 380,000 federal workers furloughed during the shutdown, Warren’s office said. Those furloughed workers, along with 420,000 federal employees who were required to report to work during the shutdown, went 35 days without pay while Trump sparred with congressional Democrats over $5.7 billion in funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. 

“I’m humbled and honored to share that I will be representing federal workers at the State of the Union as the guest of U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren,” Shahriar said in a statement.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said Monday that her guest for the State of the Union would be Trisha Pesiri-Dybvik, an air traffic control specialist who was furloughed during the shutdown.

Pesiri-Dybvik’s husband is an air traffic controller and was required to work without pay during the lapse in appropriations. The family’s home burned down in the 2017 Thomas fire.

“Since the tragic loss of their home, Trisha, Jed, and their three children have worked diligently to bounce back and reestablish a sense of normalcy in their lives, even amidst an unnecessary government shutdown that caused both of them to miss their paychecks for over a month,” Harris said in a statement.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said Monday that she had invited Frank Lagunas, an employee of the Environmental Protection Agency, to attend Trump’s address. Lagunas works as a project manager for the EPA’s Superfund division and was furloughed during the recent shutdown.

“I want to show President Trump how his hostage-taking of American workers has a continuing impact on the lives of every day citizens, especially those who are dedicated to the public good,” Schakowsky said in a release.

Trump is set to deliver the State of the Union address on Tuesday night.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had earlier asked him to postpone the speech, originally planned for Jan. 29, until the shutdown was over. When he initially refused to do so, she said she would not take the necessary steps to allow the address to proceed. 

After Trump announced a plan on Jan. 25 to reopen the government for three weeks, Pelosi invited him to deliver the address on Feb. 5.

If he doesn’t get funding for his border wall by the end of the negotiation period on Feb. 15, Trump has said he is prepared to shut down the government again.

Pesiri-Dybvik said in a statement that federal workers feel added stress because of “the looming uncertainty of another potential shutdown.”

In his announcement about reopening the government, Trump promised that federal employees who had been affected by the shutdown would get backpay “very quickly or as soon as possible.”

But workers like Lila Johnson, a general cleaning services contractor at the Department of Agriculture, probably won’t see any lost wages. Many government contractors ― from food workers and janitors to security services and computer software developers ― were also furloughed or received stop-work orders during the shutdown. But unlike federal employees, they likely won’t receive backpay.

Johnson will join Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) at the SOTU address, his office said.

“Low- and middle-wage federal contract workers who were locked out of their jobs during the shutdown have been stuck with mounting bills and no back pay,” Van Hollen said in a statement.

Van Hollen and Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) last month introduced the Fair Compensation for Low-Wage Contractor Employees Act to ensure government contractors are paid for lost wages due to the shutdown.

“I appreciate the Senator inviting me to join him for the State of the Union to highlight the need for federal service contractors to be treated fairly,” Johnson said. “I know he is fighting for us, and I’m grateful for his efforts.”

This story has been updated with Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s guest.