A woman walked down the steps of the Labor Building on E Street in Eureka early Friday afternoon and in her hand she had a brown paper bag filled with some basic necessities: some food, paper products, fresh fruit.
The woman, a 17-year veteran of the U.S. Forest Service, had stopped by the Labor Hall to pick up the items because she’s a federal employee who has been furloughed due to the shutdown of the federal government.
The woman was one of two dozen people who had come by the hall to pick up items donated to assist federal workers and their families. The event was a collaboration between the Humboldt & Del Norte Central Labor Council, Cooperation Humboldt and 211 Humboldt.
With the news that a temporary re-opening of the government was in the works, organizers of the event said they will not stop collecting donations because there is no guarantee federal employees won’t be involuntarily furloughed during another shutdown in the coming months, despite a temporary agreement to open government functions.
“We still have food distribution bins at the grocery stores and we will continue to have them because there is no guarantee that in three weeks those folks won’t have their paychecks held up again,” said John Frahm, secretary of the Labor Council.
For Leisyka Parrott, union representative for local 2152 of the National Federation of Federal Workers, the past month has been a challenge, but as she explains, she’s more fortunate than others because of her social circle and the support it provides.
“I’m a single mom and that’s a paycheck-to-paycheck situation for many,” Parrott said, who emphasized she spoke as a union representative, not as a spokesperson for BLM which is part of her duties when she is at work. “I have a community that supports me, my landlord is willing to work with me and I have a community that will feed me, but I think of the other single moms who may have just moved to a new area. They don’t have the community support, they won’t have a relationship with their landlord, she may have to deal with a property management company. She doesn’t have the luxury of missing paychecks and she may not have the luxury of the community of support and all she is doing is trying to make ends meet.”
That theme of educated, experienced, productive members of society reduced to handouts from strangers was prevalent at the Labor Hall and there is still a stigma attached to those who rely on public or other forms of assistance. As Parrott said, she simply wants to go back to work and she pointed out that if you ask anyone who has been furloughed you will most likely learn they too are eager to return to work.
“It hurts me to think of people suffering, the federal government is the single largest employers of veterans, one-third of the workforce are veterans and we’re being held hostage by the border security fight,” Parrott said. “There are people who are really struggling to make ends meet and they are afraid. They are afraid that the lack of leadership in our government is going to be our demise. We all love our jobs, all we want to do is get back to work. You know, it’s not like anyone is making crazy money here, we do our jobs because it’s a labor of love and we care about our national resources.”
There are local federal employees who have been deemed “essential” which means they have been at work for more than a month without being paid. Others who have been furloughed are botanists, chemists, archaeologists, geologists, firefighters and interpretive specialists like Parrott.
“I struggle with the people who call government workers lazy or useless or that there are too many,” Parrott said. “I speak because I happen to be the voice as union rep for a lot of people but many others can’t speak. There is so much done on public lands the public never realizes.”
The organizations that gathered to provide support estimated they had helped 20 individuals by noon Friday along with another 100 or so family members and the overall goal is to create a more collaborative community that can support itself.
“We’re working on a project of cooperation, collaboration and building a solidarity economy over one based on competition and profit,” said Tamara McFarland of Cooperation Humboldt. “Where we fit in the community is by building a culture of supporting one another. I think with the current political climate at the national level like it is, people are realizing we won’t be able to look to the federal government or even the state government in the event of an emergency in such a remote place. We want to build local systems of support.”
Humboldt & Del Norte Central Labor Council:
Phone: John Frahm at 707-758-8548
Address: 840 E. St, Eureka, CA 95501
Phone: 211 or 707-441-1001 or 877-460-6000
Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.