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With Shutdown Dragging On, Covington IRS Workers to Picket "Informationally"

The shutdown of the federal government will soon have lasted three weeks.

This weekend would mark the first pay period in which U.S. government employees miss a paycheck.

That's bad news for the workers of the IRS processing center in Covington.

"For the most part, we've been shut out of any of the information and negotiations and so on, even at the national level," said Debbie Mullikin, president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) 73, which represents members locally. "As individuals, the members of our chapter, myself included, have been writing letters to our Congressmen. We are writing letters to them asking them to open the government and to pay the folks that are working."

Mullikin said that some of the employees in Covington have been required to report to work, even without pay during the shutdown. Non-essential personnel have not been to work since before Christmas.

Mullikin was hopeful that President Donald J. Trump would say something during his nationally televised address from the White House on Tuesday that would indicate an end to the shutdown is near.

That didn't happen.

On Wednesday, a meeting between Trump and Congressional leaders from both parties reportedly ended with the president walking out of the room in frustration.

The stalemate centers around Trump's long-held desire for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Because Democrats have refused to include funding for what Trump now characterizes as a "steel barrier" in budget bills, Trump has refused to sign any of the legislation. 

The president said recently that the shutdown could go on for months or even years.

But even when the government stops, personal bills don't.

"Day care doesn't stop the bill just because your kid isn't coming for one week or two weeks," Mullikin said.

The shutdown of the federal government is a preview for Covington as the IRS plans to shutter much of its operations in the city by September of this year after more than 40 years. The number of jobs that will be lost has fluctuated since the news was announced more than two years ago, with a high of around 1,800 to as low as 400.

That forthcoming permanent change coupled with the current shutdown has added to the pressure felt by employees at the Covington site, Mullikin said.

"It's been very stressful over the last two and a half years with the consolidation and ramp down of the submission processing building," she said.

The City of Covington has contracted with a firm to explore its options for redeveloping the site should the city be able to gain control of the U.S. government-owned parcel.

As for the current battle between national Republicans and Democrats, Covington city manager David Johnston said that the city has little to do with the situation.

"My experience in seeing government shutdowns is that local and state governments have very little involvement," Johnston said. 

The union, Mullikin said, does not have any fund set aside to assist its members who may encounter financial difficulties during the shutdown.

"I have one employee who called me and she is down to her last four dollars, and if she doesn't get paid Saturday, she's not sure what she's going to do about her rent," Mullikin said. " That particular employee also receives federal housing assistance and food stamps, and it has been unclear whether those programs would be impacted at this time.

"She has no idea what's going to happen," Mullikin said.

Some local food pantries have stepped up to offer help, the union president said. Duke Energy also reached out, she said, and on Wednesday, the utility issued a news release confirming that.

Duke said that all customers experiencing difficulties, including workers impacted by the government shutdown, can receive help in managing their utility bill.

“While the government shutdown is a very visible issue now, we recognize that unforeseen hardships can happen to anyone at any time,” said Lesley Quick, Duke Energy’s vice president of revenue services. “To assist our customers who are having difficulties paying their bills, we have long offered programs and provided funding to local assistance agencies that can help.”

Duke said that it provided $250,000 to assistance agencies in Kentucky and Ohio for those impacted.

The IRS employees are not permitted to strike, but they will take to the picket line on Thursday in a ceremonial way, Mullikin said. The goal of the event is to provide information to the public and to its members.

The plan is for workers to be outside the IRS facility in Covington at 4th & Johnson streets starting at noon, holding signs and sharing information.

"We competed for these jobs, we trained for these jobs, and we enjoy our jobs," Mullikin said. "We are civil servants but we are patriotic and doing our job helps the country run and be the best country it can be.

"That being said, we also need to feed our families."

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher