Atwater correctional officers are putting their lives on the line every day without knowing when they will get their next paycheck. They are concerned the shutdown could eventually have an impact on staffing levels and safety. And ironically, they say the inmates are the only ones getting paid right now.
Behind the walls of this maximum security prison in Atwater nearly 400 correctional officers and support staff members are still working, despite the government shutdown. But they have no idea when they will be paid again.
"We house some of the worst people you can possibly imagine, and our job is to keep them behind bars, and we're more than willing to do that. However we expect congress to do their job as well and to pass a budget so our officers can continue to do what they do," said Donald Martin, AFGE Local 1242 President.
Martin has worked at the penitentiary since 2001. He is now concerned about providing for his wife and two young children, and he's certainly not alone. More than 35,000 federal prison staff members are affected nationwide.
"There's people that rent, they have landlords, they need to pay their bills, they need to put food on the table, and to the extent they're not getting paid they can't do that," Martin said.
Employees are hoping they will receive retroactive pay, but martin says it will not cover overtime costs or make up for missed vacations. He also points out the inmates are still getting paid from a separate fund.
"They have jobs in the prison that they perform, and they're currently getting paid to do that, whereas the correctional officers aren't," Martin said.
Martin says if the shutdown lasts too long, some officers will have to look for work elsewhere. That could create a staffing shortage and raise safety concerns because the prison houses more than 1,400 inmates. But for now, employees at USP Atwater are anxiously waiting for lawmakers to do their job.
"Hopefully congress can come around and do the right thing and re-open the government, and we expect to continue doing what we do every day regardless," Martin said.
Federal prison employees are not the only ones forced to work without pay during the government shutdown. Social Security workers also are still on the job working without knowing if and when they will get paid.