As we enter the 20th day of the federal shutdown, government employees across New Hampshire are continuing to go without pay.
The federal correctional institution in Berlin is one of the largest employers in the city. Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with corrections officer Jesse Carter about how the shutdown is affecting him and other staff at the prison.
(Editor's note: this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.)
Jesse, you were supposed to get a paycheck on Monday. That was days ago and you're continuing to work without pay. How are you doing?
The workers here are doing fine and I'm doing fine myself, but as we continue on it's going to incur problems.
I mean, are you starting to see some issues now at three weeks in?
People are starting to feel the stress of it. They're starting to understand that this might go on for a while, especially after the presidential address and then the rebuttal by Senator [Chuck] Schumer and House Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi. So people are starting to come to grips with maybe not being paid for a month or longer.
And what's happened since the shutdown at the prison itself?
The Bureau of Prisons has maintained the same level of control and continued to program the inmates as if nothing has occurred. So if you were to come in, you couldn't tell it apart from any other given day right now.
So I mean obviously you're an essential employee.
And you have to show up to work no matter if you get a paycheck or not.
Yes. And then of course that's another problem. Government workers that are furloughed of course aren't incurring the costs of driving to work and taking certain items to work every day. Whereas, the ones that are mandatory to come in are incurring those daily costs, which is going to exasperate the shutdown. And because of that too, they can't seek outside employment or take up anything like that.
Have you had any issues with staff calling in sick or not being able to come to work?
The staff at FCI Berlin have continued to show their professionalism through this. So we have not had those problems. I am aware that that could be going on at other federal prisons, but so far the officers here have maintained proper conduct.
Do you have a family yourself?
Yes, I do.
Do you talk with them about this and the possibility that this could go on for a while?
Well yes, of course, and that is stressful for a lot of us. It's already a stressful job, and to have this hanging over your head and the financial obligations. Some creditors are great with it. Some are not. So it's stressful for everybody in a different way for sure. It's going to need to come to an end hopefully soon.
How long can you conceivably hold on? I mean, is there a breaking point at some point where you feel like things that the prison will be compromised?
I would say that within a month of not receiving an actual paycheck, which of course we received one after the shutdown had occurred, but I'd say in February you're going to start to see problems, especially with junior staff that you know don't make as much as some of the senior officers do. So perhaps their savings aren't as much and things to that degree.
What are you hearing from colleagues?
The same thing that they are starting to feel the stress. As some people commute to work for example, so they're worried about you know not receiving a paycheck. And what if they got to the position within you know two weeks, a month where they can't be driving in? Are they going to be retaliated against for not coming to work? It's going to be a challenge as time goes on.
Yeah, so this has got some long term implications even beyond a shutdown doesn't it?
Yes it does. We would like to be paid, and it's not like we're on furlough status. We're still in here doing our work and still living up to what we were obligated to do through the employment. So we would appreciate it if the politicians could follow their end of the deal.