Due to shutdown, local fed workers will miss paychecks

Joseph Bullington —
Friday, January 11, 2019


Monday is payday for Gail Plovanic, but she won’t be getting paid.

This week, Plovanic and some 800,000 other federal workers will miss their first paycheck due to the partial federal government shutdown, now in its 21st day.

A program manager for recreation and lands special uses in the Custer Gallatin National Forest, Plovanic was furloughed on Dec. 21.

“We have an emergency savings that will get us through probably another pay period,” Plovanic said of herself and her husband, who works for the Park Service and is also furloughed. “You watch your purse strings — you have to.”

She lives in Gardiner, surrounded by federal employees, and a lot of them don’t have savings, she said.

“A lot of people really do live paycheck to paycheck,” she said.

Plovanic said many employees have already applied for unemployment benefits, and if the shutdown drags on she plans to apply next week.

After past shutdowns, Congress has retroactively compensated furloughed workers, but Plovanic said there’s no guarantee they will this time.

“If we don’t get paid after this shutdown — my God, it takes years to build a decent savings account,” she said.

She is also aware that many local workers won’t get back pay, no matter what. For example, she knows plenty of federal contractors, such as the cleaners who upkeep the Gardiner Ranger District office, who are out of work as a result of the shutdown but who have no hopes of being paid when it’s over.

Plovanic is one of about 380,000 federal employees nationwide currently furloughed, but another 420,000 are considered “exempt” and are required to report to work without being paid.

Plovanic, however, said it’s not that simple — she is working, even if she’s officially furloughed.

“Although furloughed, I supervise exempt employees,” she explained. “There isn’t anybody else keeping track of them.”

The exempt employees under her supervision are U.S. Forest Service winter recreation safety technicians who cover some of the most rugged federal land — including the forest around Cooke City, which Plovanic called “the deadliest Forest Service real-estate in the country,” because of the prevalence of avalanches and other hazards.

They check in with her in the mornings, to let her know where they’re headed, and they check in again to let her know when they get back. Some of them are new to the forest and have questions, she said.

She has heard from members of the public that some people have been taking advantage of the government shutdown — off-roading, for example, and riding snowmobiles in non-motorized areas.

Plovanic said people don’t seem to grasp the widespread effects of the shutdown, what she called the domino effect.

“People don’t realize that it doesn’t just affect federal employees,” she said. “It affects, for example, the salons in Livingston, because federal employees cancel their appointments until they get a paycheck.”

The strains of the shutdown can be seen and felt everywhere, Plovanic explained. Another example: Native American treaty hunts of bison on the north and west sides of Yellowstone National Park. Usually, she said, the Forest Service has a couple law enforcement people at the hunt sites to make sure it’s a safe hunt, but right now they’re spread pretty thin.

“Being an understaffed agency as it is, our backlog is just piling up and we have deadlines we’re not able to meet,” she said. “It makes a federal employee feel like you’re doing a bad job, because you can’t provide the public service you want to.”