LIVE: Watch 6:00-8:00am news on WHNT News 19

Union representing 11,000 Huntsville-area federal workers wary of government shutdown talk

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The American Federation of Government Employees represents more than 11,000 workers in the Huntsville area, primarily workers on Redstone Arsenal.

So talk in the nation’s capital of a government shutdown – if a spending bill is not reached by Friday – is a subject of great interest for the union’s leadership.

Everett Kelley, the union’s national vice president was in Huntsville Tuesday. He told WHNT News 19 that a shutdown would have a widespread impact on not only federal workers, but across the economy.

“People that will be receiving Social Security benefits, those checks could be late as the result of a government shutdown,” he said. “Or if the people that pay attention to whether our food is safe, the USDA are all of these people that we represent. And the federal government, if it shuts down, then it’s going to scale back on the ability to test foods, the same thing with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control).”

Kelley said a shutdown would also interfere with the mission of Redstone employees.

“Workers want to work,” he said. “We do not want a shutdown. If you ask any number of those employees on Redstone, they will tell you ‘I want to come to work. I want to work.’ And they are pleading with Congress to come up with a solution so that they don’t have to be off work. So that they can come in and get the mission accomplished. Because we understand that the war fighter needs what we have to supply for them.”

So, if a spending deal isn’t reached by Friday and there’s a government shutdown, what happens to workers?

Abner Merriweather, president of the AFGE’s Local 1858 that represents Redstone Arsenal workers, said he discussed the issue with Redstone officials Monday.

“Only yesterday, with one of the top leadership at Redstone, they informed me that they will -- let’s say they didn’t pass the budget, let’s say Friday -- employees will be allowed to come in Monday,” Merriweather said. “That’s when they will be notified.”

But Merriweather said the prospects of a shutdown have gotten far less attention than before the October 2013 shutdown that last 16 days.

“Well at this point it’s not exposed like it was in 2013 when we had the furlough,” he said. “We had prep time to prep for it. So the workforce was well-informed this time no one is informed.

A shutdown would be painful for the local economy, Merriweather said.

“If that happens that will have a devastating impact on the economy here,” he said. “Redstone employs roughly 22-23,000 employees, average salary is about $75,000 per employee, that’s a total, for one week, that’s $33 million taken out of the economy.”

The union’s vice president said workers all over the country will be watching what happens in Congress.

“It will affect working America and they are paying close attention to what’s happening in Washington, D.C.,” Kelley said.