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'Stop This Shutdown': Federal Workers Rally In Boston02:49
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Government workers and their supporters hold signs during a protest in Boston Friday. The workers rallied with Democratic U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and other supporters to urge that the Republican president put an end to the shutdown so they can get back to work. (Michael Dwyer/AP)
Government workers and their supporters hold signs during a protest in Boston Friday. The workers rallied with Democratic U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and other supporters to urge that the Republican president put an end to the shutdown so they can get back to work. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

Since the partial government shutdown, Lilly Simmons, who works with the Environmental Protection Agency, says she's "been at home, sitting around twiddling my thumbs for a couple of weeks." But she'd rather be at work.

That's why she and dozens of other furloughed federal employees rallied in downtown Boston Friday to call for an end to the shutdown, chanting, "We want to work" and "Stop this shutdown."

"I feel terrible, anxious, depressed," says Simmons, of Boston, who says she hasn't gotten a paycheck since around Christmas and doesn't know when she'll get her next one. "I wake up in the morning and don't know what to do. I check my email and hope that I've got a message that says, 'Come to work today.' "

She says that while she and hundreds of her colleagues at the EPA's Boston office aren't at work, there are greater ramifications for the environment, as people's questions about permitting or contamination are going unanswered.

Furloughed employees will likely receive back pay. But despite not getting paid now, Simmons feels fortunate, because her dad has been giving her money. She says she can endure the shutdown as long as her dad can help her out.

But other federal workers aren't faring as well.

"I have folks who are trying to pay mortgage bills, I have folks who've just found out they're pregnant," says Sajid Shahriar, a furloughed equal opportunity specialist at the Office of Housing and Urban Development and vice president of a local federal workers union. "Every single person in my building wants to work and this government will not work without us ... and we cannot work if this president does not let us work."

The primary point of disagreement for lawmakers is about $5 billion in funding for President Trump's proposed border barrier. In Boston, ralliers were angry with his suggestion that federal workers support the shutdown.

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, a Democrat who came to the rally to show his support for affected employees, says he will not accept a paycheck as long as the shutdown endures, and he vowed to do what he can to get people back to work.

"[Democrats] will work with the president, but we're not going to engage in a wall-building fantasy, pretending that that is what will actually provide the security for the American people," Markey says.

He says Democrats believe in border security too — "technology-based security, increased funding for border patrol" — but he says Democrats think federal workers should be allowed to go back to work while Congress debates and compromises on securing the U.S.-Mexico border.

"What good is it to have a border wall when we have national security employees not able to work?" asks Valyria Lewis, a former Transportation Security Administration officer with the union AFGE, which represents federal workers in the Northeast.

Lewis acknowledges that throughout the shutdown, there have been stories of TSA workers calling in sick, staging a sickout. Lewis says her union doesn't condone the practice, but understands.

"These officers are sick. They are sick and tired of being pawns in this political game, they are sick and tired of coming to work without pay," Lewis says.

Now stretching 21 days, the shutdown is set to become the longest U.S. government shutdown in history.

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Quincy Walters Twitter Reporter
Quincy Walters is a general assignment reporter for WBUR.

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