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State employees struggling with uncertainty
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Gregory Daniels, an electrician with the state, says he is "amazed" the state could shut down. Daniels says he moved to Minnesota from Arkansas "to develop myself, and it's not working out right now." (MPR Photo/Art Hughes)
State workers out of a job because of the shutdown are dealing with varying degrees of uncertainty. Some of those showing up at the rally at the Capitol Wednesday say they have enough vacation time and savings to get by. Other, mainly newer employees, find themselves in a difficult financial situation as lawmakers continue to lock horns. All those asked, though, say they're frustrated the budget impasse had to come to this.

St. Paul, Minn. — Many of the faces of state workers at the Capitol rally Wednesday reflect a mix of frustration and worry. Many of them complain about the mountains of work piling up in their absence. Others say they regret they can't help people who depend on their services.

The shutdown forced Health Department employee Nancy Petschauer to go on vacation. She considers herself fortunate to have the time available, and another income earner in her house. But she's having to think about unpleasant choices if the impasse continues.

"Unemployment lines, which I've never had to do before in my life. Possibly bumping friends -- in order to be able to get an income -- that I've worked with for a long time whose jobs are just as important as mine," says Petschauer.

Bumping is what happens when union employees who lose their job can take over another job performed by a worker with less seniority. Petschauer keeps her temper in check as she expresses her frustration at having to think of such things.

"I think priorities need to be set on what you work on first, and get the government working before you worry about whether you have a racetrack or a casino or a new stadium," says Petschauer.

Like Petschauer, state electrician Gregory Daniels learned on Thursday his job was not an essential state service. He says he's able to get some side work to keep afloat. But he would rather just go to his regular job.

"This is the first time I've been involved in anything like this. I was amazed the state could shut down," says Daniels. "I'm from Arkansas. I came up here to develop myself and it's not working out right now."

Daniels expresses some helplessness at not being able to do the job he was hired for.

"Any time you got anybody deciding your fate, and when you take vacation and using up your vacation, it affects you a great deal," says Daniels. "I had some money in the bank, but I didn't have much in the bank. But a lot of people didn't have that."

His fiance, for instance -- a state worker who Daniels says got hired a month ago, and has no vacation or savings to speak of.

The state workers in the most precarious position are those still trying to establish financial stability. Jon Osmond showed up at the rally with his wife and two children.

"I've been at the DOT for a year. I always assumed that working for a state agency or working for government would be stability," says Osmond. "I thought that was one thing I could count on. That's obviously not true."

Osmond got his job as a planner with the state Department of Transportation right out of graduate school. He used up some of his vacation time when his second child was born a month ago. His wife is on maternity leave.

"We have a limited income and we weren't prepared for this. We didn't budget for no paycheck during this time," says Osmond. "We're scrambling, trying to figure out if she's going to have to go back to work, or if I'm going to have to look for another job if it continues any further than it does right now."

Osmond works to put a smile on a face that's otherwise tight with tension. He says the government shutdown is a blow to the talented people who choose to work for the state when they could make more money elsewhere.

"Some people that I know that work at state agencies actually believe in the mission of those agencies, and believe that what they're doing is the right thing. They believe in public service," says Osmond. "I feel like we're getting screwed. I'm really disillusioned, and I don't know what to tell people about it."

Another state worker's frustration during the rally boiled over. Gina Kiser stood on the Capitol steps with her dog, Rags, and a sign that read, "Will work for food." She challenged two state troopers who told her she had to take her dog off the Capitol grounds. The confrontation escalated after the troopers tried to take away a long staff Kiser uses as a cane.

The troopers led Kiser, a 25-year health care worker with the state Department of Human Services, away in hand-cuffs.

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