Don’t Let the Bastards Shut You Down

I recently received an email from a Bossed Up podcast listener named Michelle, whose job prospects were derailed by what is now the nation’s longest partial shutdown of the United States Government. Michelle wrote, in part:
I began working as an intern with the federal government in February 2017, and stand to be converted to full time (I literally submitted the paperwork on 12/24). However, this means that, just in the short time I’ve been there, I’ve been subject to 3 shutdowns now. My direct managers and supervisors are amazing. They’re flexible with my tasks and time, they’re totally in love with my work ethic and they’ve gone out of their way to fight the uphill battle with the “higher-ups” to get my conversion [to becoming a full time employee] approved in spite of the hiring freeze. The atmosphere is wonderful, and I have a real chance, with hard work and time, to get into the hard sciences without having to go back to college for another degree. However, with the shutdown, and now the pay freeze, I’m left in a position that many federal workers find themselves in: scrambling to make sure my bills are paid. In addition to this, for the same type of work at a state or county government, I could be making $4-$5 an hour more. I’ve found several positions with the state that appeal to me. Not only do they pay well, but they have room for upward mobility. They involve a little more commute, but that doesn’t bother me. However, all of them…would require a total career pivot for me. I know I have to make this decision on my own, but I was just wondering if you might have tools (or perhaps your listeners might) for weighing my options here. Federal service is a great long-term security option. It’s a stable, comfortable, and in my case, exciting gig. But, I want to buy a house someday, maybe adopt a kid. I don’t know if I can keep doing the shutdown dance for another 2 years and what that might cost me in the long run. Michelle, Bossed Up Podcast Listener
Michelle, I’m so sorry that the shutdown is forcing you into a difficult position. I’m not just sorry, I’m ashamed. I’m embarrassed, as we all should be. We, the United State of America, the wealthiest nation in the world, we’re tolerating the furlough of nearly 800,000 federal workers? It’s shameful. These are workers who have chosen to serve their country. Members of the United States Coast Guard have just been denied their paychecks for the first time in history. Just yesterday, the Trump Administration announced that nearly 50,000 federal workers are required to return to work despite not getting paid, with no expectation given as to when they might be paid next. We should all be outraged. These are the people who keep our food safe, our airport security secure, and have chosen a to work towards the public wellbeing of our nation. And now many of these folks are forced into lining up a food banks, or living off of the charity of grocery store chains handing out gift cards. This a national embarrassment. Michelle, if this were a situation being put upon you by a company in the private sector – if it were a company that was regularly stiffing its employees, just as hundreds have alleged Trump’s private sector businesses have done for years – I would tell you to cut and run. To not withstand that kind of abuse. To not tolerate such a toxic environment. And to consider litigation. Because this is not a form of negotiation, to be clear. This is abusive. Negotiation, after all, is a conversation with the explicit intent of arriving at agreement. A give and take process aimed for compromise. When an employer witholds pay, regardless of who it is, we’re no longer talking about negotiation, this is about eliciting pain, creating crisis, and aiming to weaken your bargaining power by abusing their position of power over you. This kind of behavior isn’t a sign of strength, it’s indicative of a toxic workplace, and a calculation like that of a schoolyard bully: designed to intimidate, scare, and belittle you. But how you really deal with schoolyard bullies? You’ve got to show your strength and resolve in return. You can’t let the bastards get you down. You can’t allow this kind of a national anomaly – which we cannot allow to become normal in anyone’s eyes – to derail your intended career path. You are clearly someone who’s excited by the direction your career is headed in – towards the hard sciences. You can’t let this chaos in Washington, as absurd as it is, as much as it shouldn’t be happening, cause you to consider leaving that path behind in pursuit of a a few dollars more an hour elsewhere. Take the long view, Michelle, and think about what you’d regret more 10, 20, or 30 years from now. Now, that’s not to say these weeks and months are going to be easy. But while this financial duress you’re under right now is real, I refuse to join the chorus of absurdist advice coming out from the Office Personnel Management about how to barter to delay rent payments or do chores for neighbors for extra cash. Frankly, it’s insulting. The Federal Government used to be a place to build what you call a “stable, comfortable” career. And you have every reason to expect that your hard work and public service should result in the kind of middle class life that makes buying a home and raising a child possible. But restoring that reality isn’t about pivoting your career path in response to this national negligence. It’s on all of us to fight to restore a state of normalcy our in our damn government. We, the people, must make those phone calls to Congress and the White House on behalf of folks like you. We must get involved in campaigns to restore sanity and order in our elected bodies in Washington. We must all fight to restore a sense of dignity and respect to act of public service itself. Because there are hundreds of thousands of people who are asking themselves the same thing right now: is this really worth it? Are the sacrifices I’m making to serve my country respected and honored? Is the basic contract – the agreement I’ve made to serve my country – being reciprocated in return? And if hundreds of thousands of folks like you decide that no, it’s no longer worth it, and they no longer believe in public service as a career path, then this Administration has already done more lasting damage to our great nation’s very foundations than any of us can realize. If we can’t attract top talent to serve on behalf of our government, that’s not just a national crisis, it’s a global threat to America’s standing in the world. John F. Kennedy spoke to this urgent need back in 1961 in his State of the Union address, a speech we should be hearing from our President on soon, but is currently up in the air given the shutdown’s impact on the regular order of business in Washington. But now more than ever, I think it’s important we’re reminded of what real leadership sounds like. Here’s what JFK had to say, back in 1961:
“I have pledged myself and my colleagues in the cabinet to a continuous encouragement of initiative, responsibility and energy in serving the public interest. Let every public servant know, whether his post is high or low, that a man’s rank and reputation in this Administration will be determined by the size of the job he does, and not by the size of his staff, his office or his budget. Let it be clear that this Administration recognizes the value of dissent and daring — that we greet healthy controversy as the hallmark of healthy change. Let the public service be a proud and lively career. And let every man and woman who works in any area of our national government, in any branch, at any level, be able to say with pride and with honor in future years: ‘I served the United States Government in that hour of our nation’s need.'”  John F. Kennedy, 1961 State of the Union Address
If you believe in a government of the people, by the people, and run by hard-working people who deserve a paycheck, share this episode with someone who needs to hear it, and do you part today to contact your representatives and tell the White House our White House – to put America back to work.
 


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