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It’s time to stop abusing America’s public employees

By Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
Trice Edney Newswire

The government shutdown engineered by the Republican tea party zealots in the House of Representatives has finally ended after nearly three weeks.

The damage was done. Infants went without nutrition. Children were locked out of pre-school programs. Scientists lost support and locked up labs. The people who took the biggest hit, of course, were public employees — the workers who serve the American people. Some 800,000 of them were initially furloughed without pay. Ironically, those deemed the most essential paid the highest price.

“Essential” government employees were, as Jeffrey David Cox, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees, told me on my radio show, essentially “indentured servants.” They were forced to work without pay. About half of AFGE’s 670,000 members are deemed “essential.” They are required to work, and face disciplinary action if they don’t. But they weren’t getting paid and didn’t get paid until the shutdown ended Oct. 17.

These employees included nurses, food inspectors, janitors, firefighters and more. Most are not big earners. They have to buy food and gas, pay rent or mortgages, keep electricity and heat on. Most have to pay to get to work and back — in gas, in mass transit fees, in parking.

They were forced to draw down savings or go into debt just to keep going. This is unacceptable. We all benefit from dedicated and skilled public servants. They work for us. When private employers forced people to work without pay, it was called slavery.

Despite the fact that it has ended, it is clear shutting down the government has undermined America’s reputation across the world. The possibility of defaulting on our debts threatened a global financial meltdown. The time for these games has long past.

Scorn for bureaucracy and government is a long-standing American tradition. But perhaps, the now-ended shutdown will help people realize we have a huge stake in an effective and efficient government. We should show far more respect for those we employ with our tax dollars. They are like all workers. They struggle to support their families. They go to work every day. Many live paycheck to paycheck, while laboring to put aside a little money to pay for their children’s education. Few can afford to work without pay and none should ever again be forced to do so.

Shutting down the government and punishing the people who work for us should be unacceptable to all those who care about this country.

Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. is president/CEO of the Rainbow-PUSH Coalition

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