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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Furloughed AmeriCorps Worker Protests Shutdown

Jeff Wismer is an AmeriCorps employee who has been furloughed. He is protesting the government shutdown on the National Mall. (Facebook)

Jeff Wismer is an AmeriCorps employee who has been furloughed. He is protesting the government shutdown on the National Mall. (Jeffrey Wismer/Facebook)

Since the government shutdown, furloughed AmeriCorps employee Jeffrey Wismer has been on the National Mall, protesting the shutdown.

Wismer says he lives paycheck to paycheck and wants to get back to work.

Others have joined him in the protest.

People protest the government shutdown on the National Mall. (Jeffrey Wismer/Facebook)

People protest the government shutdown on the National Mall. (Jeffrey Wismer/Facebook)




Well, some furloughed federal workers have taken to the streets. There's a photo of Matthew Giarmo wearing a suit and tie and holding a sign that says Ph.D. analyst will work for $75,000. Another shows Jeffrey Wismer sitting on the National Mall in a lawn chair. His sign reads we want to work.

Jeffrey is a furloughed personal security specialist for the government program AmeriCorps. He's on the Mall. And Jeff, obviously you're not in favor of the shutdown.

JEFFREY WISMER: That is correct.

YOUNG: When you have your sign there on the Mall, what kind of conversations are you having?

WISMER: Great conversations. There's a lot of support, a lot of people honking their horns, coming up to me, saying thanks for being out here. We couldn't have picked a better sport, right in front of the U.S. Capitol Building.

YOUNG: Well, but there's a lot of supporters of government workers there because there's a lot of government workers there. What do you say to the people who think it's a good thing that Washington is being downsized, and in fact they want it to continue? Fox News is calling this not the government shutdown but the government slimdown.

WISMER: Yeah, the slimdown, I saw that myself. I would say to those people that take some headlines out of the news this morning about the salmonella outbreak.

YOUNG: Yeah, we just talked about that and the workers who had to be called back.

WISMER: Great, exactly, and we almost had a hurricane down in the Gulf of Mexico. So we had to call in FEMA workers and National Guard to take care of that. So there's a lot of things that people just don't know enough about the federal government and what we do that's so vital.

YOUNG: Make the case for your job. AmeriCorps is a government - it's funded by a government agency. I'll give you 30 seconds. Why should your job stay?

WISMER: Well, thank you for throwing me that softball, Robin.


WISMER: Quite simply, we do a lot of great. We put volunteers on the street of America. Also we do disaster recovery work. We work with FEMA and the Red Cross in areas like those affected by Hurricane Sandy, and we have been a big presence in parts of Joplin, Missouri, as well as Oklahoma that have been ravaged by tornadoes.

So we do a lot of very important work that helps people rebuild their lives, especially during a disaster.

YOUNG: AmeriCorps workers just poured into Colorado to help them there after the flooding.

WISMER: Absolutely.

YOUNG: But, you know, the House just passed a bill that would guarantee furloughed federal workers back pay, and it's expected that's going to pass in the Senate, as well. So what do you say to people who say what's the big deal, you're ultimately going to be paid?

WISMER: Well, it's not about just being paid. It's about keeping people safe, keeping people secure, inspecting food. So it's more about the work.

YOUNG: But a lot of furloughed workers are working paycheck to paycheck. I mean, is this hitting you?

WISMER: Yes, as a matter of fact I'm starting to receive calls from credit card companies because I'm already late on a couple of my credit card payments. And yes, we'll be paid, guaranteed, up until the end of the fiscal year, which was 9/30, but after that we don't know when our next paycheck is going to come.

YOUNG: Well, Republican Paul Ryan wrote an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal. Some say his thoughts may help break the logjam. He barely mentions the Affordable Care Act, but he points to other places to cut spending. For instance the better off could pay higher premiums for Medicare.

And then he says federal employees, that would be you, should be asked to contribute more to their retirement. You say what?

WISMER: You know, I'd have to look at the exact details of what he's proposing. If it's reasonable, then I think federal government workers would be able to go along with something, as long as it was reasonable.

YOUNG: Well meanwhile, Jeffrey, we're understanding that Washington is responding to furloughed workers. The Pork Barrel Barbecue is offering a free pulled pork sandwich to any furloughed government employee, although they have a sign that says excludes congressmen. The Boston Globe is reporting that Fiber Space is giving free knitting lessons, and in fact they have a knitting support group.

So do you get a sense you're not alone, at least?

WISMER: I do get a sense. A lot's been said about small businesses that have been affected by this furlough. So I think this is a way for the small business owner and restaurant owners to kind of have their voice be heard. I myself used to be a chef in a restaurant. So know what that's like to rely so much on people filling up your restaurant.

In fact I've talked to some local restaurant owners who I've worked with, and they said that they've had to cut people back. So they're having to already make choices when it comes to the ongoing government shutdown.

YOUNG: That's Jeffrey Wismer, a furloughed AmeriCorps employee who's been sitting out on a lawn chair on the National Mall holding a sign that says we want to work. Jeff, thanks for speaking with us.

WISMER: All right, Robin, thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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