Government shutdown brings hardship for federal workers

Krista and David Kirsh. Source: David Kirsh

Krista and David Kirsh. Source: David Kirsh

David Kirsh is required to continue his work as an airway transportation systems technician at the Hartsfield-Jackson air traffic control tower as an essential employee amid the partial government shutdown, but he's not sure when his next paycheck will come.

“My wife has approached me to ask, do we need to sell our house so we do not default on our mortgage,” said Kirsh, a 30-year-old Marine Corps veteran who lives in Senoia. “I told her that as of right now, not to do anything.... If it does [continue], most likely we will have to do that.”

If the federal impasse is not resolved, affected federal workers risk missing their next paycheck scheduled for Friday.

“Our obligation to our debtors is not changing and we have to keep working, but we’re not being paid,” Kirsh said.

Kirsh is one of hundreds of federal workers in Atlanta affected by the shutdown.

“We still go in even knowing that we’re not getting paid. There’s all this stress,” Kirsh said. “But we still want to provide the safest airspace there is.”

Kirsh’s job involves maintaining equipment used by air traffic controllers, working 10-hour shifts.

But he says a couple of his co-workers said they may have to find another job if the shutdown doesn't end soon.

“We, as just human beings, are going through a great amount of stress due to not being paid,” Kirsh said. “It’s not just me, it’s my wife, it’s my family.”

He said his wife Krista is also struggling “to maintain composure at her own work, just not knowing what’s going to happen.” If the shutdown continues, “my wife and I will have to get together and prioritize.. who gets paid and who doesn’t.”

Air traffic controllers are also required to work through the federal shutdown without being paid, while Federal Aviation Administration safety inspectors, engineers and others are furloughed.

“Really what it’s done is added a new layer of stress,” said Dan McCabe, a controller at the FAA’s Atlanta Air Route Control Center in Hampton south of the airport. “In my family it’s conversations we’re having at home about financial obligations. What if. Lots and lots of what ifs. That’s the bad thing -- there’s no certainty to it whatsoever.”

Others are worried about paying for child care, while some are trying to be more thrifty with grocery shopping, McCabe said.

“As we get closer to Friday, that’s when those hypotheticals become real to people,” McCabe said. “It’s an unfortunate situation to feel that arguments in D.C. are being put on the backs of federal workers.”

McCabe said the shutdown has also stalled planning for the huge influx of flights expected in Atlanta for the Super Bowl on Feb. 3.

“When we work events as busy as the Super Bowl, it takes a lot of planning, a lot of foresight -- a lot of strategic planning,” McCabe said. “Those meetings have been canceled, because they’re considered non-essential. A lot of people who do that have been furloughed.”

About the Author