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Inmates Paid While Yankton Prison Workers Wait

October 7, 2013, 5:46 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

Inmates Paid While Yankton Prison Workers  Wait
YANKTON, SD -

They aren't getting paid but they still have to go to work to supervise prisoners who are getting a paycheck.

It's the reality for about 100 prison workers in Yankton as the government shutdown continues. Keeping the day-to-day operations running at the minimum security federal prison camp there is one of the essential government functions being maintained during the shutdown.

Nearly 36,000 employees who work for the Federal Bureau of Prisons across the country have to work during the government shutdown in order to 'protect human life and property,’ including the ones in Yankton.

"Basically, we're working right now on an IOU for the government and we have families to support.  We have bills to pay and we're expected to be here," American Federation of Government Employees Local 4040 Union President Michele Kunkel said.

Kunkel says workers have already gone a week without pay, and while they are likely to get back pay when the shutdown ends, the longer the government closure lasts, the tougher it will be to get by.

"We will get paid eventually, but we don't know when eventually is; your creditors aren't going to take an IOU. We can't go to the grocery store and buy groceries and say, 'Here is our government IOU,'" Kunkel said.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the shutdown is that while workers are going without paychecks, inmates at the prison are not.

"There's a different funding for them," Kunkel said about the inmates who are actually getting paid for the jobs they do while in custody.

The Department of Justice says Prison Industries and the Commissary have enough money to cover a lapse during the shutdown.

Kunkel says the employees in Yankton are looking to Congress to solve the shutdown so they can start getting paid again.

"It gets frustrating when you've got a group of individuals sitting in Washington getting paid and they're basically doing nothing for us right now," Kunkel said.

While Kunkel says employees will still come to work, they're just hoping Congress will soon do the same.

"We just would like to be compensated and have Congress just pass a bill, pass a budget, get us some money. We can't operate forever," Kunkel said.

Kunkel and her husband, along with several other couples, are both employed at the federal prison camp making the shutdown even more difficult for them.

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