Protestors in Winston-Salem urge end to government shutdown
Jennifer Warfield, a Veteran Service Representative for the Department of Veterans Affairs, protests during her lunch hour outside the Hiram Ward Federal Building downtown. (Winston-Salem Journal photo)
Federal employees and their sympathizers marched in front of the Ward Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse on Main Street on Tuesday, calling for an end to the federal shutdown.
Chanting such slogans as “Congress, do your job,” the protesters held their signs out for passing drivers to see and sometimes walked in a loop on the sidewalk from 11 a.m. to about 1 p.m.
The protest was organized by the American Federation of Government Employees, which describes itself as the largest federal employee union, representing 650,000 workers nationwide and overseas. About 15 people were involved in the protest at any given time on Tuesday.
“Our people want to work,” said Bryan Conlin, a union organizer with the AFGE from Raleigh. “They don’t want to sit home and do nothing.”
Employees of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs here said that 250 employees considered non-essential were told Tuesday morning not to report to work because of the shutdown. They said the local VA offices have about 700 employees in all.
Although the processing of claims continued, veterans couldn’t go inside the Ward building because the VA support staff was not on the job. The Associated Press reported that 7,000 VA workers were furloughed nationwide.
Steve Graves, who reviews claims to make sure they are made according to guidelines, said that he was among those told not to come to work. So he spent the morning at the protest.
“We are guaranteed our next check, but I don’t expect to get paid for not working,” Graves said. “It could affect me because of the mortgage and car payment. I hope that it (the shutdown) is short-lived.”
The VA said that claims processing and payments would continue during the shutdown, but people wouldn’t be able to go into regional offices such as the one in Winston-Salem to get help. Also, the processing of appeals has stopped until the federal shutdown is resolved.
On Tuesday, employees with Disabled American Veterans who usually work inside the Ward building were manning a table outside so that they could help veterans with their needs.
“We can’t get veterans into the building so we came out here to help them,” said Pace Ashworth, an employee. “We advise veterans about what they need to do to get their claim.”
The Rev. Robert Wolfe, who works as a chaplain for Forsyth Jail and Prison Ministries, was watching the protesters as he walked along Main Street.
“I think that if I was a federal employee I would be carrying a sign because I would be upset,” Wolfe said. “I’m sympathetic with anyone who is out of work.”
Members of the group Protect Your Care – North Carolina took part in the protest. The organization’s mission is to promote the Affordable Care Act. Those protesters brought along a cardboard cutout of U.S. Rep. Howard Coble, R-6 th , whom they criticized for not turning down his pay, as some congressmen have, during the shutdown.
Stuart Ford was selling hot dogs from his stand near the Hall of Justice. He said he thinks both Democrats and Republicans are to blame for the shutdown.
“It seems that the whole thing has become an elementary school kickball game,” Ford said, adding that as a veteran he supports the right to free speech.