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Federal Workers In Kansas City Are Fed Up After Three Weeks Without Pay

Andrea Tudhope
KCUR 89.3
IRS employee Cita Mitchell led protesters on a march down the street Thursday at a rally against the government shutdown.

"Hey-hey, ho-ho — this government shutdown's got to go."

Around 150 federal employees gathered to protest the government shutdown Thursday outside of the IRS building near downtown Kansas City, Missouri. The shutdown began December 21 and continues over President Trump's demand that Congress fund a border wall.

Nearing the end of its third week, it threatens to be the longest shutdown in U.S. history. 

Credit Andrea Tudhope
Andrea Tudhope
There are around 19,000 federal employees in Kansas City, Missouri. Most at the Thursday's rally were non-essential, but a small handful of people there were working without pay.

"I don’t see an end in sight but I do believe the people have to speak, and we have to let them know that we won’t take this," said Christina Bennett, an IRS employee of 39 years.

"We voted them in and we will vote them out," she said. 

The shutdown has hit Bennett's family hard — Bennett, her daughter and two of her grandchildren all work for the IRS.

Knikkia Jefferson also works for the IRS. She left her job at a Payday Loans for the IRS last year, thinking it was a wise financial decision for herself and her three children. But, she said, she never saw this coming. 

"I live in an apartment complex where they ready to turn my name into to the attorneys because I don't have any money to pay my rent," she said.

But, with the Missouri Housing and Urban Development shut down, to0, she said she's holding out hope it all works out in the end. 

Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Over the course of an hour, dozens of cars driving by on Pershing honked in support of the rally, organized by the greater Kansas City AFL-CIO. Several unions were present, including the National Treasury Employees Union and the United Auto Workers Union.

This isn't the first shutdown for many people in the crowd. In his 20 years with the IRS, Marvin Lewis has been through three. 

"This one seems to be for no reason," Lewis said.

The toughest part, he said, is trying to explain to his youngest kids why he can't go to work. He has three children, and without an end in sight, he has started looking for other jobs. 

"Just anything that's more steady. When I first started, a government job was a good job. But here more recently, it's not," Lewis said. "Every year it seems to be a fight for funding and the budget, and we're still recovering from budget cuts they did years ago. They're expecting more work out of less people. It's getting harder and harder each year."

Former president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 1336, Arthur Johnson, was there Thursday. He's retired from the Social Security Administration, but he said he's still fed up.

"The Republicans had control of the House, Senate and presidency for two years. So how come they didn't take care of it back then?" Johnson said. "Seems like this is just to put a thorn in the side of Democrats."

Cita Mitchell led the crowd on a march, speaking through a bull horn.

"We want to work. We got work to do."

Mitchell has worked for the IRS for 13 "beautiful" years, she said.

"We get the job done here. We get it done through over-time, extended hours, anything we can, we get those taxes out. That's how we roll," Mitchell said. "I'm going to be a peaceful person about it, and patient, but Mr. President, we want our job and we want it now, sir."

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter at KCUR 89.3. Email her at andreat@kcur.org, and follow her on Twitter @andreatudhope.

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 
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