Dozens of furloughed federal workers rallied outside NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on Tuesday, demanding that President Donald Trump and Congress end the partial government shutdown immediately.
The protest, organized by the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation AFL-CIO, united employees from NASA, the Transportation Security Administration and other federal agencies in a plea for resumed pay.
“Make America work again,” protesters chanted. Some hoisted signs in the air that stated “Let me do my job” and “Will science 4 food.”
Roughly 95 percent of NASA employees have been furloughed since the shutdown ― the longest such closure in U.S. history ― began on Dec. 22. At the Johnson Space Center, where human spaceflight training and research are conducted, about 94 percent of its 3,055 federal workers have been furloughed.
Though these employees will likely receive backpay once the government reopens, those living paycheck to paycheck are struggling to make ends meet in the interim.
“I know some people are calling it a paid vacation, but it’s not,” said Bridget Broussard-Guidry, a furloughed financial management specialist at NASA and president of her local chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees.
“Let them go without a paycheck and see how far they get,” she added. “How long is the mortgage company or the light company going to be understanding? We have bills to pay. Our savings can only last for so long.”
About 200 Johnson Space Center employees have continued to work without pay during the shutdown, primarily focused on ensuring the safety of the astronauts aboard the International Space Station, the Houston Chronicle reports.
Over 800,000 federal workers have either been furloughed or, if deemed essential, instructed to work without pay during the weekslong shutdown. Many employees of government contractors are also not working and they will likely never see retroactive pay.
The TSA has reported a surge in airport screeners, who remain on the job without pay, taking “unscheduled absences” this week. About 7.6 percent of TSA employees didn’t show up for work on Monday, compared with 3.2 percent on a comparable day a year ago. Monday marked the first business day after TSA staffers first missed paychecks due to the shutdown.
Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport, roughly 45 miles north of the space center, had to close a security checkpoint on Sunday due to “staffing issues associated with the partial shutdown of the federal government.” The checkpoint remained closed as of Tuesday afternoon.
Don’t hold us hostage for your political promise. Bridget Broussard-Guidry, a furloughed NASA employee
Broussard-Guidry told HuffPost that she has endured several shutdowns in the decades she has served in the federal government, but this one feels different.
Democrats and Republicans “are not even going to the table and talking this time,” she said. “That’s what makes everyone so uneasy.”
Trump has promised to veto any spending bill that would re-open the impacted federal agencies if it does not include $5 billion to fund his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Democrats have steadfastly rejected his request, calling his wall ineffective and unnecessary and noting that he has repeatedly vowed Mexico would pay for it.
Broussard-Guidry blasted Trump for continuing the budget impasse over border wall funding and urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to call a vote on a proposed spending bill.
“This shutdown can’t last for months and years as the president said. It’s not good for anyone ― the economy, the employees, the American people ― no one,” Broussard-Guidry said. “Don’t hold us hostage for your political promise.”