Prolonged Federal Shutdown a Growing Health and Safety Risk for Workers and Communities, Says National COSH
By the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health
The prolonged shutdown of the federal government – now the longest on record – is a growing risk to the health and safety of workers and communities, say leaders of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH).
As the U.S. Senate prepares to vote on competing plans to end the shutdown, more than 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed or forced to work without pay for more than a month. Many workers employed by companies with federal contracts are also losing income.
“Federal workers have already missed at least one paycheck and have no idea when they’ll see another one,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, co-executive director of National COSH. “That translates into terrible stress for workers who don’t know if they can pay their rent or mortgage, buy food for their families or meet other essential needs.”
As the unnecessary shutdown enters its second month, Federal employees who are still working are faced with frustrated users of government services, who may experience long waits – or lack of any response at all. “Federal workers are on the front lines of experiencing repercussions from the public,” said Goldstein-Gelb. “These workers are coping with pressure in their workplaces – including an increased risk of workplace violence – as a result of a shutdown that never should have happened in the first place.”
Furloughs and work without pay across multiple federal agencies have led to short-staffing and overwork for many government workers, which can cause preventable on-the-job injuries. Affected workers and their families are also at greater risk of illness, said Goldstein-Gelb, if financial problems are a barrier to receiving appropriate medical care.
Some federal workers, including screeners and agents for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), are required to report to work even though they are not getting paid. Many workers facing this situation may be forced to moonlight second or third jobs in order to make ends meet.
“Forcing someone to work a second job after an already demanding shift at an airport or another critical assignment is unsafe and unfair,” said Jessica Martinez, also a co-director of National COSH. “It’s well-documented that fatigue from overwork, with limited opportunities for rest and recovery can lead to dangerous workplace injuries, illnesses and even fatalities.”
“The workers who are on the job every day to protect us deserve better treatment – and we deserve a full-time workforce that is rested, healthy and prepared to provide important public services,” said Martinez.
“Congress and the president must take immediate action to re-open our government,” said Martinez. “Elected officials are still getting paid. They should do their jobs.”