Some union leaders praise Rep. Stefanik’s handling of shutdown
BY EMILY RUSSELL (PLATTSBURGH REPORTER, PRODUCER) NCPR
Jan 29, 2019 — The longest government shutdown in U.S. history ended on Friday, Jan. 25.
Many federal workers in the North Country say they suffered because of the standoff between President Donald Trump and Democrats in Congress. Some labor leaders are giving Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik high marks for how she handled the shutdown.
Between Dec. 22, 2018 and Jan. 25, 2019 Jamey Goheens heard a lot from federal workers.
Some were struggling to afford childcare, others couldn’t make loan payments. One diabetic Goheens talked to was even rationing medication.
“I spoke with him the other day and plead with him to get ahold of me if he needed medicine refills and I would personally get them for him,” Goheens explained. “We shouldn’t have to do that.”
Goheens is the local chapter president of the National Treasury Employees Union. He represents more than 600 federal workers in the North Country. Goheens spoke to NCPR just hours before the end of the shutdown on Friday.
He, too, had been working without pay, barely scraping by. Goheens said Friday was a breaking point. He had to ask a friend for a personal loan.
“I, myself, am in a financial situation where I needed help,” Goheens admitted, “and luckily, I have friends like Thomas that will help me.”
Thomas O’Keefe is a retired Customers and Border Protection agent. He was the local chapter president of the NTEU for more than 30 years before retiring in 2017. O’Keefe has seen his fair share of shutdowns.
“If you don’t think that not having a paycheck and not knowing when the next one is coming is soul-crushing on morale, I’m telling you it is,” said O’Keefe.
Both O’Keefe and Goheens said they felt like the federal government was treating federal workers like pawns, just trying to win the fight over border wall funding.
But both also said their local Congresswoman Elise Stefanik had their backs on this one.
“I’m a Democrat, but she does respect our work and she deserves a lot of credit.”
Rep. Stefanik was against the shutdown from the very beginning, calling it “misguided and unnecessary,” on her Facebook page.
She broke with her party on Thursday, Jan. 24 when she voted to end the government shutdown. That vote didn’t go anywhere, but the next day President Trump agreed to a temporary fix.
Rep. Stefanik reached out to both him and Goheens.
“She called Jamey and she called me because she knows how much I stay in touch,” O’Keefe said. “We had this news almost before the President was on the TV about it.”
Stefanik declined to speak to NCPR for this story. In a press release, the Congresswoman acknowledged the financial strain it put on thousands of families in the North Country.
Meanwhile, the Feb. 15 deadline for a budget deal still looms large for federal workers, many of whom are still waiting for their paychecks from last month.
You can read or listen to this story on https://www.northcountrypublicradio.org