Work with no pay? Why some NYC federal employees continue working despite shutdown

Posted at 8:11 PM, Oct 03, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-03 20:11:05-04

It may be Day 3 of the federal government shutdown, but here in the New York, many people have been surprised to learn the ways in which the government closure affects them.  Another surprise is the salary and wage situations of some federal employees, particularly those charged with enforcing the shutdown’s closures.

Federal park police are not only necessary to keep shuttered federal facilities safe from intruders, but in the case of Great Kills Park, on the southeast side of Staten Island, federal officers keep people away from recently discovered radioactive soil in the park.

The officers’ role is obviously important, but they are carrying out their duties for no pay, PIX11 News has learned from law enforcement sources.

“First of all, I would be home,” said Tony Marchitelli about the federal officers who guarded the entrance to Great Kills Park as he stood with a group of friends there.  “If I’m not getting paid, I wouldn’t be working.”

Marchitelli was one of a couple dozen people sitting in lawn chairs in the parking lot outside of the park’s shuttered entrance.  He and his group of friends would ordinarily spend a warm, sunny day like Thursday near the water in the Oceanside Park.  However, this Thursday, rotating shifts of guard keeping park police and rangers forced his group of retirees to have their daily social gathering just outside the park perimeter.

Those uniformed officers are counting on getting back pay for their current work, but that’s not guaranteed.  A law enforcement source familiar with the situation of the Park Police and park rangers told PIX11 News that, even though some rangers and police officers have been deemed non-essential, they’re expected to still work their shifts.  The assumption is that they’ll be paid retroactively once the shutdown is over, but that’s not guaranteed.

And if those workers are paid, doing so will cost taxpayers more because of the shutdown than it would have cost if the government had continued to operate.  According to the Office of Management and Budget, during the last government shutdown, which lasted for 27 days in 1996, it cost $2 billion in 2013 dollars to pay retroactive wages, and to forgo uncollected fines and taxes.

This time, the shutdown is only in its third day, and many local residents are just now learning that the shutdown can affect them directly.

“A government shutdown!” exclaimed Debbie Bencivenga when she read the sign on the gate of Great Kills Park, to which she had planned to go on an exercise walk before she learned that the shutdown had annulled her plans.

“I’m angered,” Bencivenga, a self-described Republican, said.  “We need to take a stand, but there’s got to be some middle ground, where [both political parties] come to terms with something so that we can go on with our country and resume our daily activities. And I really want to walk the park,” she said.

She ended up having to go elsewhere to walk, but Marchitelli and his group of seniors vowed to return to Great Kills every day, until the shutdown is over. Whenever that may be.