Unpaid COs in Ohio face hardships as shutdown drags on

COs at an Ohio correctional institution have worked their regular shifts for nearly a month without pay because of a border wall funding standoff


Sabrina Eaton
Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Working in a federal prison is hard enough without the added stress of not knowing when you’ll be paid.

Corrections officers at Northeast Ohio’s Elkton Federal Correctional Institution have worked their regular shifts for nearly a month without pay because of a border wall funding standoff between President Donald Trump and Congress that has shut down some parts of the federal government. Workers deemed critical to public safety - like federal prison and Transportation Security Administration employees are still on the job despite not getting paid, a situation that Elkton employee union president Joe Mayle likens to “modern day slavery.”

Because they’ve got no cash, Mayle says he and his wife are putting all their purchases on credit cards in hopes that the shutdown will end before their bills come due. If he misses another paycheck during the shutdown, he says they’ll have to call creditors to seek forbearance.

“There is not much we can do except call them and say, 'This is what is happening, can you please keep my lights on, can you still pick up my trash? '” says Mayle, of Kensington, who is among more than 6,000 Ohio workers affected by the shutdown.

Mayle says the 320 workers in his union make $35,000 to $40,000 a year, and many live paycheck to paycheck. As the head of AFGE Local 607, he says he’s heard numerous tales of woe from colleagues who are already having trouble paying their medical bills, their mortgages, and car payments because of a dispute between politicians that seems far removed from their lives. Regardless of their political beliefs, Mayle says workers at the prison think it’s wrong to not pay people who are working and want their paychecks issued immediately.

“I am at a loss for words,” says Mayle. “I never thought I would see the day when anyone in this country would treat other citizens this way that are not only law-abiding, but are doing the community a service. It is more than a slap in the face, it is disgusting. If people are working they deserve a paycheck, period.”

If he misses another paycheck, Elkton corrections officer Kenneth Pittman of East Liverpool Township says he and his wife will have to decide which bills must be paid immediately and which can be put off. He says getting another job isn’t an option for many federal employees because employers won’t want to hire someone who will return to another job when the shutdown is over.

“We don’t know when they are finally going to make up their minds over what they are going to do,” Pittman, the union’s vice president, says of the politicians whose dithering caused the disruption. “I don’t have the luxury to care about anything else. If I am coming to work, pay me for the hours I work. I shouldn’t have to call my creditors and beg them to forgive me. I want to be able to take care of my family. I am working. I need to be paid for the hours I work."

Aaron Bankston, who heads the AFGE’s union for Ohio TSA workers, says he’s already called the banks that hold his mortgage and car notes to get forbearance because of the shutdown. The Hopkins International Airport security screener says some of his creditors have been willing to work with him, and others haven’t.

“I don’t have enough money to pay the ones that need to be paid and will probably have to go deeper in debt to do that,” says Bankston. He predicts the federal workers like him will be in even worse shape if they have to miss another paycheck next week, and anticipates businesses that rely on spending by federal workers will also be affected.

“I am having a rough time, personally, and hearing the stories of the other people in my union is something that weighs on me as well," says Bankston. "You want to be able to help them but you can’t, because we are all in the same boat. We need the politicians to come together and work this out to open the government back up and get us paid.”

Paul Novak of Olmsted Township, an AFGE member who works as an Environmental Protection Agency geologist, says he had enough money to pay bills after missing much of his last paycheck but has updated his resume and is scanning “Help Wanted” ads in hopes of getting a part-time job to help pay his bills until the shutdown ends.

“For some folks, it is going to be a crisis situation,” says Novak “I hope everyone can sit down and come to an agreement soon so we government workers can get back to doing our jobs and protecting the public.”

Bill Gentry of North Olmsted, who heads the union at Oberlin’s Air Traffic Control Center, says many newly hired air traffic controllers have little savings and are financially stressed because of the shutdown. Many of his members have been passing out leaflets at Hopkins International Airport that urge airline passengers to call their legislators about ending the shutdown.

“Everyone is calling their creditors,” Gentry reports. “Most have told us we can miss one or two payments on debts without penalties, but they will eventually start. Some people who have been furloughed are taking second jobs. Even people who don’t need it are taking out loans because none of us can see any end to this.”

U.S. Coast Guard member Cole Morgan of Lakewood posted a notice on Facebook that said he’ll be accepting donations of food and household goods at the town’s library at 2:30 pm. on Friday for Coast Guard families who are having trouble making ends meet during the shutdown.

“This shutdown, with the petty infighting and finger pointing from both sides of the aisle is shameful,” Morgan declared in another Facebook post. “800,000 Americans have been declared as political pawns, bargaining chips for two sides posturing and attempting to ensure reelection. A friend of mine just said they should be ashamed of themselves. I agree. But, they’d have to have souls to feel shame.”

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©2019 Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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