Menendez Speaks To Frustrated Fed Workers In Montclair

Menendez Speaks To Frustrated Fed Workers In Montclair

By:  Eric Kiefer
Patch Media

MONTCLAIR, NJ — The setting of Friday's press conference was sweet: beloved New Jersey bakery Montclair Bread Company. But the tales of struggle and frustration that emerged during a roundtable discussion on the ongoing federal government shutdown were much more bitter.


On Friday – the 28th day of the shutdown – a group of unpaid federal workers gathered at the Montclair bakery on Label Street to share their stories. (Watch video below)


Spearheaded by U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, the roundtable touched on the difficulties that the workers have been facing since an ongoing budget dispute between Republicans and Democrats kicked off a partial government shutdown.


In New Jersey, at least 5,000 federal government workers are going without pay as a result of the shutdown, a group of U.S. lawmakers said last week. Those employees include air traffic controllers at Newark Airport, as well as workers with the U.S. Coast Guard, Environmental Protection Agency, Internal Revenue Service, Federal Department of Agriculture and Federal Bureau of Prisons.


During Friday's roundtable, Menendez listened to workers worries about how they're going to pay their bills, feed their families and put gas in their cars without paychecks.


"There is no reason for the government to be closed," Menedez said. "It should open and it should open immediately. There are the votes to do so."


See related article: NJ Democrat Leaders Blast Trump, Shutdown At Newark Airport

Emily Nering of Basking Ridge has been working at the Environmental Protection Agency's Edison field office for eight years. During her time there she has helped to bring clean drinking water to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands following Hurricane Maria.


Nering had saved up money for her IRA and a down payment on a home, but now that money will be used to help pay her rent and other bills pushing her financial and life goals further back due to the government shutdown, she said.


Other participants at Friday's roundtable included:


  • Ray Adams, air traffic controller at Newark Liberty Airport
  • Cheryl and Myron Asnis, married IRS employees from Kendall Park
  • Grace Figueredo, of Roselle Park, is the mother of a Coast Guardsman
  • Christine Gallagher, IRS employee from Newton
  • Amy Hagel, of Bergenfield, mother of a Coast Guardsman
  • Rod Koeppen, Federal Bureau of Prisons employee at Ft. Dix
  • Michael Morel, Federal Bureau of Prisons employee at Ft. Dix
  • Katie Morris, of Brick, mother of a Coast Guardsman
  • Colleen Schultz, of Toms River, mother of a Coast Guardsman
  • Meyer Slobotsky, FDA employee from Aberdeen
  • Rachel Wyman, owner of Montclair Bread Company


Earlier this week, Sen. Menendez shared the stories of other New Jersey residents impacted by the shutdown.


Jessica from Atco, whose husband is a lieutenant at the Federal Bureau of Prisons, has worked without pay the entire shutdown, she said.


"We have two children – 7 and 9," she said. "My oldest has some special needs for occupational therapy weekly, neuropsychologists monthly, and numerous other visits – on top of having severe food allergies and asthma which he takes daily medication for."


"The lack of this paycheck is not only a hardship but a crisis, forcing me to choose between groceries or my son's medical appointments, medications and gas for our car," she added. "How is this fair to put on our shoulders?"


Karen from Absecon said that she and her husband are both government contractors with the Federal Aviation Administration.


"By the end of this week, we will both be temporarily laid off, taking our household incomes from two to zero. We have a mortgage to pay and two children to feed, one of whom misses her friends at the federally run daycare center that we cannot afford to send her to right now."


See related article: Basking Ridge Federal Employee Tells Her 'Shutdown' Story

If the community's reaction is any sign, the affected workers are finding scores of sympathetic ears as they wait for lawmakers to restore their paychecks.

Since the start of the shutdown, reports of local outreach to the workers and their families have emerged across the state. One of the businesses offering their sympathies to the affected workers has been the Montclair Bread Co., which is giving them a free cup of coffee and a snack during the shutdown, and recently made a yummy donation to TSA employees at Newark Airport.