Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

October 4, 2013

'We want to work'

Furloughed workers at Grissom protest government shutdown

By Carson Gerber Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — GRISSOM AIR RESERVE BASE — Over 20 Air Force reservists and other Grissom employees gathered in front of the base and along U.S. 31 Thursday afternoon to protest the continuing federal government shutdown that’s put around 600 of their co-workers out of a job for what is now four days.

Some protesters held signs reading “Honk for Our Jobs Back” and “To Government: Do your job so we can do ours.”

Others held their young children as employees deemed essential to Grissom’s operation headed to work inside the base.

“We have a lot of single mothers who work here, and this is their only income,” said Gloria North, who works as a housekeeper at the base’s hotel. “Some of us are literally not going to be able to buy groceries … Congress is hurting us. We want to work. We want to feed our families.”

One employee driving into the base stopped to express his solidarity for the protesters and his fellow workers.

“Don’t hate me,” he said. “I support you guys. Keep it up.”

Bobby Smith, a computer assistant at the base, said the hundreds of furloughed employees have hurt the military capacity at Grissom, which houses the largest KC-135R Stratotanker refueling unit in the Air Force Reserve Command.

“Planes aren’t flying,” he said. “These are military aircraft in a military unit, and we’re civilian workers keeping that unit going. But we can’t do that because Congress isn’t able to do what it needs to do.”

Protesters Thursday had biting words for Congress, which has yet to pass a funding bill that would reopen government offices after Republicans linked desired changes to the Affordable Care Act with routine spending legislation.

“I think Congress needs a babysitter,” said Kathy Zabel, who works as the chief housecleaner at the base. “They’re just like toddlers fighting, and yet they’re still getting paid.”

Arnold Scott, a national vice president for the American Federation of Government Employees, showed up Thursday to protest along with furloughed Grissom employees. He said the government shutdown is hurting people who only want to work and provide for their families.

“I just think it’s a shame,” he said. “These federal workers have nothing to do with the squabble that’s going on in Congress. I think it’s wrong for Congress to politicize these workers.”

Smith agreed. “Don’t use us as pawns. We’re not pawns, we’re people. We do a service to this country, as do many other federal workers.”

He said the forced lockout from the base especially hurts considering civilian employees are already required to take 11 furlough days from July to September this year because of federal budget cuts called sequestration.

That takes up to around 20 percent of workers’ paychecks during the furlough period.

With the prospect of possibly not receiving a paycheck for weeks as the congressional fight over spending wages on, Air Reserve technician Derrek Dimenco, 26, said he’s looking for a second job to help pay the bills.

“My bank account only stretches so much,” he said.

Dimenco said if he could have a talk with Congress, he would tell them this: “If you’re not going to pay us, then I’m staying at your place when I lose my house. I’m gonna knock on your door and ask for a place to sleep and something to eat.”

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, or at carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com.