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Local air traffic controllers working without pay

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The Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge north of Roswell is open but largely unstaffed during the shutdown. Only emergency and law enforcement personnel are working. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

From being required to work without pay to an largely unstaffed Bitter Lake refuge, the federal government shutdown is being felt in Chaves County in a number of ways.

Frank Beeton IV, left, president of a local union chapter representing air traffic controllers, receives pizzas Friday provided by the Civil Air Patrol and delivered by Air Center Manager Mark Bleth. The organization provided the food for the federal employees, who have been required to work without pay since the partial U.S. government shutdown began Dec. 22. (Submitted Photo)

The city’s 22 managers and staff of the Federal Aviation Administration who work in air traffic control at the Roswell International Air Center have been deemed essential workers and required to work since the shutdown began Dec. 22, but they are not receiving pay, said Frank Beeton IV, the president of the local unit of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

“We have to come to work and provide the same level of professionalism. However, we are not getting paid,” he said.

Beeton said the consequences for many workers are significant. For example, he is considering a loan to cover bills and expenses until pay resumes.

He also said that people who had been granted leave for the holidays were told all paid leave had been canceled, so they either took their scheduled time off with the risk of not being paid for that period or they canceled their holiday plans and went to work, assured that they will eventually be paid for time on the clock once the shutdown ends and paychecks are issued.

Beeton said union representatives have participated in a rally in Washington, D.C., and have visited every member of Congress to urge them to agree to legislation that will reopen all branches of the federal government.

“This is completely non-partisan for us,” he said. “We just want the shutdown to end.”

New Mexico has about 21,954 federal employees, which represent about 1.17 percent of all U.S. government workers, according to September 2017 data published by the federal Office of Personnel Management. In 2017, there were about 816,700 employed people in the state, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The shutdown has closed the local offices of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with the exception of people working for the National Resources Conservation Service, which was previously appropriated funding. Some staff of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has two operations in the area, have been furloughed.

Other federal entities with local employees remain open, including the federal circuit court, the Social Security Administration and law enforcement entities. Other entities, such as the U.S. Post Office and Transportation Security Administration screeners at the airport, are employees of independent companies.

Local government agencies and businesses have responded with some offers to help those furloughed or going without pay. The city of Roswell will defer payments for water bills, and Xcel Energy is offering payment options on electric bills. And some area businesses and groups are providing free meals or interest-free loans for a certain period of time. Friday, a local Civil Air Patrol group provided pizza for local air traffic controllers.

Another consequence of the shutdown is that Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is only staffed for emergency and law enforcement purposes. Visitors can continue to travel through the grounds of the refuge northeast of Roswell, but the visitors center is closed and guides are unavailable. Signs posted indicate that entry is at the “visitor’s sole risk.”

Genevieve Roy of Quebec is among those affected.

Shortly before the shutdown, she obtained a pass for all national parks for her five-month trip through several U.S. states. She was in Roswell and at the Bitter Lake refuge on Thursday morning, sitting with her dog on the second-floor patio of the visitors center.

“I like hiking,” she said. “Most of that is still available, so it not a big problem for me.”

She was disappointed that she has not been able to enter some parks, such as the Bandera Monument near Grants, New Mexico, and that some people are not thinking about their role in helping parks that are open.

“There is a lot of trash (at open parks),” she said. “That is the bad part. Not everyone is aware of the environment. You know it is closed, so take care of things.”

The shutdown entered its 28th day Friday. Nationally, 800,000 workers are affected. Most, about 420,000, are required to work without pay, while about 380,000 have been furloughed. Federal workers affected missed their first paycheck on Jan. 11. Legislation was signed this week to ensure that even furloughed workers will receive back pay once appropriations are restored.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.