OGDEN -- Furloughed federal employees took to the streets Thursday afternoon, demanding Congress put an end to the government shutdown that has suddenly left them without work and without pay.
A group of employees from Hill Air Force Base and other federal agencies picketed in front of Utah Republican Congressman Rob Bishop's office at the James V. Hansen Federal Building in Ogden.
Already stressed from sequestration-related furloughs earlier this year, Hill civilian workers are now on indefinite unpaid leave after Monday's midnight deadline passed without a resolution to the fiscal year 2014 spending and appropriations bill.
The Republican-controlled House has passed a spending bill that maintains current spending levels but does not provide funding to implement the Affordable Care Act.
The Democratic Senate insists the program be fully funded.
Because the two sides can't agree, the nation is now three days into its first government shutdown in 17 years.
A few of the people from the protest group, which also included employees from the U.S. Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service, said they are asking Bishop to pass a continuing resolution that will allow vital government programs and services to continue.
The group chanted and waved signs adorned with such slogans as "We want to work" and "We'll remember this come November."
"We need Congress to do what they were elected to do and pass a budget that allows the federal government to function," said Monty Lewis, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1592, a local federal employees union.
"Debates over raising the debt ceiling and implementing the Affordable Care Act shouldn't jeopardize federal programs and services that millions of Americans depend on."
Lewis also said Congress should avoid using a continuing resolution to gut benefit programs that affect the working class.
"Anything that would cut entitlement benefits like Social Security and Medicare or change how pensions are calculated for federal employees has no place in a continuing resolution."
Lewis said while thousands of Hill employees continue to be furloughed with no pay, their private-industry counterparts who provide contract work for the government will continue to work and be paid.
"This double standard is outrageous and shows how little concern Congress has for federal employees," he said.
In a letter sent to Lewis on Thursday, Bishop said he is sympathetic to the hardships the lack of consensus in Washington is inflicting on government employees.
"After having already endured six days of unpaid furloughs this summer, it's unconscionable that defense civilian workers be asked to endure a long and unnecessary shutdown," Bishop said in the letter.
Bishop also said he interprets the recently passed "Pay Our Military Act," which requires active-duty military members to have priority for being paid during a shutdown, as including civilian military workers.
The congressman signed a multimember letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that asks Hagel to respect this interpretation of the law and notes that the Department of Defense has sufficient funding flexibility in the short term to avoid any civilian furloughs.
In the letter, Bishop said he also co-sponsored legislation that would retroactively pay the furloughed employees once the shutdown is resolved.
Chaleste Spencer, who was among the most vocal of the protesters Thursday, said if the shutdown continues much longer, many federal employees will be faced with some dire conditions.
"A lot of people live paycheck to paycheck," she said. "People are starving because of this. Put us back to work -- we need to provide for our families."
The last federal government shutdown occurred in 1996 and totaled 26 days. According to the Congressional Research Service, that shutdown cost taxpayers $1.4 billion.
Lewis said he hopes history doesn't repeat itself, but he isn't very optimistic about the current stalemate being resolved quickly.
"We don't see this shutdown ending anytime soon."
Contact reporter Mitch Shaw at 801-625-4233 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23.