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Here's what it was like for FCC workers back from their forced 35-day vacation

Staffers are expecting their back pay, but cafeteria employees say they were financially wrecked by the shutdown.

by William Turton
Jan 29 2019, 6:02pm

The longest government shutdown in U.S. history finally ended Friday, and furloughed workers came back to the office Monday from their 35-day unpaid forced vacation to face a whole new set of challenges — not to mention still not knowing when they'd get their backpay or, in the case of contractors, dealing with setbacks suffered from not getting paid at all.

On the first day back at the Federal Communications Commission, co-commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was trying to figure out how to prioritize her "long and semi-tedious list of all the things we haven't been doing," like policing robocalls — she estimates there were 5 billion during the shutdown — and rolling out broadband to more rural areas.

Staffers like Katie Black, meanwhile, were dealing with lapsed passwords on their computers and work cellphones, which they weren't allowed to use while they were out. The FCC has just over 1,400 employees and most of them, like Black, were deemed “non-essential” during the shutdown. They're the so-called lucky ones who will get back pay for the time they were furloughed, but government contract workers like FCC cafeteria employees will not.

Kevin Lee, a chef at the cafeteria, says he had seven checks bounce during the shutdown. “One check charged $35 [in overdraft fees]. Seven charged $210,” he told VICE News. So how did he get by? He said he "found a way to borrow money." For one of his fellow cafeteria workers, she cut her own food budget: She only ate ramen noodles during the shutdown.

This segment originally aired January 28, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.