Labor union hosted food drive to help federal workers get back on their feet after the shutdown

Tehya Rassman

The sounds of blaring bull horns and protesters chanting in unison cut through the air Friday morning as Ed Sills, communications director of the Texas American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, and about 100 other people gathered outside U.S. Sen. John Cornyn’s office to protest the government shutdown.

Around 12:30 p.m., Sills received a message saying the government had reopened after President Donald Trump agreed to sign a bill which would temporarily reopen the government. 

“First of all, the federal workers do not yet have their paychecks,” Sills said, recalling the event. “Second of all, it’s a three week deal, so there’s more to be done before we can really celebrate. But is it a victory? Certainly.” 

In addition to protesting the shutdown, Texas AFL-CIO, a labor union dedicated to helping workers in Texas, hosted a food drive last week in conjunction with the Central Texas Food Bank to provide food for federal workers and to refill the food bank’s depleted stock. The food drive continued through Monday morning, despite the shutdown ending, because federal employees still have not received their paychecks after the 35-day shutdown, Sills said.

“There have been many federal workers who work paycheck to paycheck, who have needed the extra assistance to get by,” Sills said. 

Paul Gaither, director of marketing and communications for Central Texas Food Bank, said that in a normal week without a government shutdown the food bank serves about 46,000 people. 

“There are about 26,000 federal employees in the central Texas region that we serve and a great many of them are affected by the shutdown,” Gaither said. “We want to make sure that if these folks need assistance, they can turn to us.”

The federal workers who have gone to the food bank for assistance received both perishable and nonperishable foods as short and long-term help, Gaither said.

With about 42 boxes full of cereal, soup, peanut butter and more donated to the food drive already, Pooja Sethi, her husband and her son, Jay, came into the AFL-CIO office building to add a bag of goods. Jay, who is 7 years old, donated his own box of Girl Scout cookies.  

Sethi, an immigration attorney, said her family is donating because people have been working without paychecks.

“We wanted to do our part by giving some food,” Sethi said. “If we had gone more than a month without a paycheck, it’d be really hard on our family.”

Now that the shutdown is over, Sills said the drive can help the food bank get back to serving the 46,000 people who need it every week. He also said he learned something from the shutdown and the food drive.

“People who you might not expect are living paycheck to paycheck, even federal workers who are considered to have solid, middle class careers,” Sills said. “If you take anyone’s paycheck away for a sufficient period of time, they too might end up at the food bank.”


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