Federal workers protest in Raleigh as shutdown reaches 21 days

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- As most of the Triangle's workforce welcomes the weekend, the region's thousands of federal employees are begging to go back to work on Monday.

Dozens of those workers gathered on Friday in front of the Terry Sanford Federal Courthouse in Raleigh to protest the partial government shutdown that is hours away from becoming the longest ever in U.S. history.

"There comes a breaking point and I think we're very close to reaching it," Mac Johnson, a TSA agent at RDU Airport told ABC11. "I keep coming to work because, after the events of 9/11, I felt the obligation to keep protecting this country. That's why I signed up with the TSA to ensure another event such as 9/11 never occurs again."

Johnson, however, knows this noble mission is not a volunteer position. Security agents, like air traffic controllers, are considered essential employees who are still working but without getting paid.

"It's important to us for our mission at hand to have our undivided attention when we're on duty, and I imagine it becomes more difficult to do so when you're thinking about if you have enough gas to make it home or to pay my mortgage and have a home to go back to."

Joining Johnson on Friday were other members of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a union of federal employees at the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Bureau of Prisons and Department of Veteran Affairs, among myriad others.

The shutdown, which began shortly before Christmas, continues to threaten other government entities like the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Housing and Urban Development, which helps millions of real estate buyers, sellers and renters.

Also on Friday, lawmakers on Capitol Hill worked to pass a bill guaranteeing back pay to employees affected by the shutdown. If passed and signed by President Trump, the measure still wouldn't provide relief to the hundreds of thousands of government contractors whose contracts are suspended.

Allison Eames, a recent UNC graduate who is a researcher for the EPA, quips to ABC11 that she's been getting a little "stir crazy" staying at home without work.

"I'm definitely not going out to get drinks with friends," Eames said. "I've been really stingy with what I've been eating and doing. I feel like I'm running out of options. I mean, I applied for unemployment benefits."
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