A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Internal Revenue Service workers rally in Covington; call for an end to the government shutdown

By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

Federal employees from the Internal Revenue Service and their supporters rallied outside of the IRS Center in Covington Thursday.

Debbie Mullikin, president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) Chapter 73, said government employees impacted by the shutdown want to work and need to get paid (photos by Mark Hansel).

Debbie Mullikin, president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) Chapter 73, said the group assembled to show the public they want to work and to call for an end to the government shutdown.

“We all took an oath to do jobs that we think are very important to the economy and to the running of the country,” Mullikin said. “We want to do our jobs, and we want to be paid to do our jobs.”

Right now, nobody is getting paid, but some are still required to report to work every day.

“Our next pay date would be Saturday, however, they didn’t run the payroll tapes last Friday, so the folks that are in there and have been working for the last three weeks will not get paid,” Mullikin said. “Neither will the folks who are furloughed and at home. There will be no paycheck Saturday for most of the employees of this service center.”

For more information on the government shutdown and the impact it is having on local IRS employees, click here.

There are almost 3,000 employees in the bargaining unit Mullikin represents and about 1,500 at the Covington center who are not union employees.

Those still working, which Mullikin estimates at about 240, are identified as essential. They will not get paid until the shutdown is over.

 The group of about 100 braved subfreezing temperatures for about an hour to demonstrate their frustration and bring attention to their plight.

Workers chanted, “What do we want? end the Shutdown. When do we want it? Now,” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho, the shutdown has got to go.”

Many who drove by the staging area on West Fourth and Johnson streets honked their horns in support of the workers, but a few seemed annoyed by the demonstration.

One woman in a pickup truck rolled down her window to shout her support for the workers and take a few shots at President Donald Trump as well.

“We need to get his (expletive) out of office,” she said. 

Michele Ryan of Loveland has worked as an IRS employee at the Federal Building in Cincinnati for more than eight years.

Ryan has eight children that range in age from 14 to 26. She said the impact worsens the longer the shutdown drags on. 

“It’s just a black cloud hanging over my family,” Ryan said. “It’s affecting everything, my kids talk about it every day.”

A group of about 100 IRS employees and their supporters braved subfreezing temperatures Thursday to call for an end to the government shutdown.

Two of Ryan’s children are in college and she pays tuition of the ones that are still in school.

“Our income right now is cut in half,” Ryan said. “Bills can’t get paid, kids are not getting fed, maybe what they should be – medications, doctor visits, we have to think hard about all of that and we shouldn’t have to.”

Ryan is also worried about the impact of having so many IRS employees out of work as tax season approaches.

“I want to work,” Ryan said. “My work is getting behind, all of the taxpayers that I service are getting behind. They’re paying the price, too.”

This has been a rough time for employees at the Covington IRS Center, who were facing an uncertain future before the shutdown.

The IRS announced in 2016 that it would close down the processing facility in the fall of this year, because more taxpayers are filing returns electronically.

“It’s demoralizing – it was demoralizing when they first told us they were going to ramp down our service center (and) there were1,826 impacted employees,” Mullikin said. “We understand that, that type of work is going away. We had hoped that they would make a big effort to ensure those folks could get other jobs in the government.”

She questions if enough of an effort is being made to do that.

“When you work for the government you are aware of the business culture, you know how to do the beginnings of almost every job,” Mullikin said. “So it’s a simple matter, you would think, to move over to other similar jobs. We’ve seen some job announcements that were external, rather than strictly internal, so some folks are not getting the opportunities they could get.”

The Tribune has reached out to the IRS for comment during the shutdown, but attempts to reach a spokesperson Thursday were again unsuccessful.

Mullikin said she is out of the loop as well. She has sent a contact letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and a letter to President Donald Trump on behalf of the nearly 3,000 employees in her bargaining unit, but has not gotten any responses.

Michelle Ryan has worked for the IRS at the Federal Building in Cincinnati for eight years. She said the shutdown is “like a black cloud hanging over my family.’

In Cincinnati, a group of federal employees from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 2031 was expected to rally in front of Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)’s office Thursday afternoon as well.

“Public servants joined the federal workforce so they could serve their country, and they do an admirable job,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said, in a statement. “It’s very disheartening when I get calls from workers who are afraid they can’t pay their bills or rent, and it kills me to tell them there may not be an end in sight.”

In a government shutdown – even a partial one – Cox said nobody wins.

“We have 800,000 dedicated public servants who are either sent home without pay or are forced to put their lives on the line while their paychecks are on hold,” Cox said. “The U.S. Senate needs to get their priorities straight and vote on this bill so America’s workforce can report for duty and the American taxpayer can receive the services they’ve already paid for.”

Mullikin said she has heard that, because it is tax season, some IRS employees could be called back soon.

“There will be more employees identified as essential later in the month, we were told,” Mullikin said. “We don’t know yet exactly what jobs will be considered essential.”

Of course, they will not be paid until the shutdown ends.

On Thursday night, the U.S. Senate passed a bill, that the president is expected to sign, ensuring that employees furloughed during the shutdown would receive back pay.

While that is good news, it is not clear how that will affect eligibility for unemployment, which some employees say they are having trouble getting a determination on already.

As the shutdown drags on into its third week, Michelle Ryan just wants to be able to go back to work and support her family.

“Open the government back up, figure out a better way to get this resolved,” Ryan said. “Don’t put us in the middle.”

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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