For more than 6,500 Ohioans employed by the federal government, Friday marked a grim milestone: The first day they have missed a paycheck since the government partially shut down on Dec. 22.
What it means varies, but it’s never a win.
For the 10 married couples who work at the Federal Correctional Institution in Elkton, it meant no income whatsoever until the government reopens.
For others, such as the roughly 400 federal civilian employees in the Dayton region, it means a hard look at the bills — which expenses could be eliminated, which could be reduced.
For many, it meant calls to creditors laden with apologies. For the luckier ones, it means dipping into savings.
For at least 558 Ohioans, the loss of income has been grim enough that they’ve already applied for unemployment benefits: Since Dec. 29, according to Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, that many federal employees have filed claims.
And for some, it means the typical January back–to–work drudgery — just without pay.
In Elkton, in Columbiana County in northeast Ohio, correctional officers at the Federal Correctional Institution are showing up for shifts that can lost as long as 16 hours because they are deemed “essential.”
But they’re not being paid.
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“Nowhere else in the United States is an employer permitted to make a worker work and not pay them,” fumes Joseph Mayle, an officer at the prison and the president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 607, who, like other union representatives in this story spoke on behalf of the union and not the agency itself. “They’re supposed to be better. They’re supposed to be leading by example.”
Recently, one federal agency advised its employees affected by the shutdown to get a second job.
Mayle was furious.
“We work 8, 10, 12, 16 hour shifts,” he said. “When do they expect us to find time to be an Uber driver or get a second job and still have us come to work housing dangerous criminals?”
He said the job is risky, making the lack of pay even more insulting.
“The inmates are here getting their meals…and I have to figure out how to get food on the table,” he said. “The more I talk about it, the more frustrated I get.”
Estimates of how many Ohio workers have been impacted by the shutdown vary, in part because the shutdown is partial, touching some agencies but not others. The left-leaning Center for American Progress estimates, based on federal Office of Personnel Management figures, puts the number of Ohioans affected at 6,569 of the estimated 800,000 federal employees impacted nationwide.
Governing Magazine, which did its own study using OPM data, estimated that 7,171 employees in Ohio are affected, saying in all, the state has 49,987 federal employees – about 2.4 percent of all federal workers nationwide.
Neither figure includes government contractors, farmers or other workers who rely on the federal government as they do their jobs.
Fred Yoder, a feed corn and soybean farmer near Plain City, Ohio, said farmers hurt by President Donald Trump’s tariffs were told they’d be paid extra to offset the loss.
The catch: The deadline to apply for those payments is Jan. 15. Right now, the offices where a farmer would apply are closed.
“It’s all come to a screeching halt because of the government shutdown,” he said.
Yoder saw the shutdown coming. He applied early, receiving some offset for the estimated $100,000 income he’s lost based on not being able to market his soybeans to China, a key consumer of U.S. soybeans. Other farmers weren’t as lucky.
There are other impacts as well. Farmers who want to pay back a government loan can’t, meaning they’ll pay extra interest. Farmers who want to apply for a loan have nowhere to apply. Those programs were backlogged even before the shutdown, he said.
In Columbus, Mike Weekley, an air traffic controller at John Glenn International Airport and the president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association Local CMH, said his union represents 41 air traffic controllers. Thirty–three are fully trained, working and not getting paid. Eight are trainees — and four of them have been furloughed. Also furloughed are support staff and managers.
One furloughed staffer is in charge of quality assurance and quality control, including tracking changes on maps and charts. His job is to give pilots that crucial information.
“Everyone that is needed to support air traffic control — all those other people — they’re all gone,” he said.
“The system is safe,” he said. “But it’s stressed.”
Mayle said federal workers are already operating with a pay freeze. And the Federal Bureau of Prisons has cut correctional officers in recent years, asking them to do more with less.
He used to tell family and friends that the federal government was a good place to work: The pay was reasonable, the work reliable.
“I’ve come to the point where I wouldn’t tell anyone anymore this is a good job to have,” he said.
Paul Greenberg, a scientist at NASA Glenn in Cleveland and Vice President of the Lewis Engineers and Scientists Association Local 28, said he has yet to miss bills — “I’m not sure how long I can do that,” — but acknowledges that for many of his colleagues, there’s a fine line of falling into financial hardship. Something as simple as a few missed paychecks, he said, could send someone’s financial status into chaos.
Beyond that, there’s the deep insult of being what Greenberg calls “a bargaining chip in what is essentially a budget discussion,” expendable, as if what they do does not matter.
That lack of respect, he said, may lead to the degradation of the federal workforce. Those with expertise, talent and experience, he said, may no longer want to apply.
“On what planet does it make sense to vilify your employees?” he asks. “Say you want to put a roof on your house, but first you tell the roofer he’s an overpaid parasite. You’re going to get a great roof, aren’t you?
“For God’s sake, we’re employees of the American taxpayers. Wouldn’t you want your employees to be the most qualified, motivated, experienced people you could have? Why would you do everything you could to undermine your workforce?”
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