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For Federal Employees On Furlough During Shutdown, An Uncertain Future

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now that we've talked about the overall impact of a government shutdown, let's talk with one of the tens of thousands of federal workers who may or may not be going to work tomorrow morning. Pam Gilbertz works as a health communications specialist for the Centers for Disease Control. We reached her in Atlanta. Ms. Gilbertz, thanks so much for speaking with us.

PAM GILBERTZ: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: What did your supervisors tell you on Friday about whether you will be at work on Monday?

GILBERTZ: My supervisor did not tell me anything on Friday because my supervisor had not received any information either. In fact, I received information before she did because I got that information in my role as a union official.

MARTIN: And what did you find out or what are they saying?

GILBERTZ: We haven't received anything. I know in the past - the shutdown that occurred in 2013 - we all had some limited information but at least something from our headquarters, the Department of Health and Human Services, several days at least in advance.

MARTIN: Is it clear who in your agency has to work and who doesn't?

GILBERTZ: It is not clear to most of us. All we know is that each individual employee got a letter by email from HHS. I haven't even seen my letter yet because I have not logged into CDC email since Friday afternoon, but I have been told that the emails went out overnight, and those emails from HHS told each individual employee how they had been categorized. I'm assuming that I will be categorized the same way that I was categorized in 2013 because I'm doing the same job that I was doing then, and my position as a health communication specialist is categorized as non-essential because it's not one of those that fall into the category, you know, of national security or so forth.

MARTIN: And you're saying you worked for the government in 2013. Do you remember that - like, what that was like while the shutdown was going on? Can you just talk a little bit about, you know, what was it like? What did you do?

GILBERTZ: It's very sad. I know that most employees who have contacted me are very upset. Many people live paycheck to paycheck, and it will be a real struggle for them to pay bills and be able to take care of themselves and their families without pay. You know, employees want to work. I think some people in the public may have the perception that federal employees don't care that much about the work that we do, but it's actually the opposite.

You know, I have found federal employees are the most dedicated bunch of people that I have ever worked with, particularly at the CDC. We take what we do very seriously. We take an oath of office when we become federal employees that is very similar to the oath of office that many of us took when we joined the military, including me, and many federal employees are military veterans. So, you know, it's very stressing to us when we are not allowed to do that work and not allowed to provide the services that we've been trained to provide and we want to provide to the public.

MARTIN: That's Pam Gilbertz. She's an employee of the Centers for Disease Control. She believes she will be furloughed as of Monday if the government shutdown continues. We reached her in Atlanta. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

GILBERTZ: You're welcome. Thank you.

MARTIN: And we'd like you to know that we reached out to the Department of Health and Human Services to ask how they spoke to their employees about the shutdown. We haven't heard back. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.