WASHINGTON – A government shutdown could close the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island this weekend and put federal contractors in a Christmastime crisis.
“We need a paycheck so our kids’ holidays can be complete,” said Mbowun Franklin, 40, a security guard at the Statue of Liberty and father of two.
Franklin is among the more than 100 federal contractors represented by the SEIU union who would be out of work if the Statue is closed.
But unlike the federal national parks workers, they have no guarantee they’ll ever get paid.
The hourly workers say they already live paycheck to paycheck and a shutdown would mean no income for Christmas gifts, holiday dinners and for a Jan. 1 rent payment.
“When rent is due, rent is due,” Franklin said. “You can’t tell your landlord that you’re on a government shutdown, please give me some extra time.”
The last time the government shut in January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo stepped in to reopen Ellis Island and Lady Liberty with state funds.
Cuomo’s office did not respond to questions Friday on whether the state would step up again.
“We don’t know whether we are coming to work tomorrow,” said Marian Ayeboua, 50, a mother of two teenagers and Statue of Liberty security guard making $24.66 an hour.
Ayeboua survived the 2013 16-day government shutdown by living off canned ravioli and applying for unemployment benefits.
Unlike Ayeboua, federal government employees eventually received their back pay.
“It’s tough right now,” she said.
The partial government shutdown is a result of President Trump demanding $5 billion to build a border wall with Mexico and not having the 60 votes in the Senate to make that happen.
A shutdown would mean 420,000 federal employees — like law enforcement and public safety personnel — would work without pay and nearly 400,000 others would be furloughed.
In addition, thousands of federal contractors would be left in limbo — including IT, accounting, janitorial and food service staffers who work in federal buildings.
While most contractors stop work during a shutdown, it’s up to their companies to decide if employees will be assigned to a different project, stop working but get paid during the shutdown, be furloughed for the duration, or laid off.
Bonita Williams, a federal contractor who cleans at the State Department in the evenings, said there’s a clear disparity between how federal employees and contractors are treated.
“At least they get paid,” Williams, 56, of Washington, DC ,said. “At some point, they would get their money. We don’t ever get ours.”
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