BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - There are about 6,100 federal employees in Louisiana affected by the government shutdown, and now they have a place to get a free, hot meal.
The Ruby Slipper Café announced Tuesday all locations will give free entrées to furloughed employees and their immediate family members. It’s a gesture that’s not gone unnoticed.
“It’s an amazing thing what Ruby Slipper has done and other local communities to help us through this time,” said Mathew Lehnert, an air traffic controller in Baton Rouge and NATCA union rep. “Providing us a meal out when we’re already stressed out and we don’t want to spend any extra savings funds, that gives us great peace of mind knowing that other people see the impact and realize that we’re all in this together.”
Lehnert represents 30 air traffic controllers in the Baton Rouge tower run by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). All but two of those employees are working without the promise of pay.
“The true impact here is the stress added to an already stressful career of not knowing when you're going to get a paycheck, if you're going to get a paycheck,” Lehnert said. “We aren't on the top crust of society's paycheck as it is, so it's not like we have a lot in reserves here.”
Amber Mcclellan is one of the two controllers who was deemed non-essential. She’s been out of work since the shutdown began on December 22. Two months ago, the mother of four left a well-paying job in West Virginia and moved her family to Louisiana for the position in Baton Rouge.
“Finding childcare and everything too, moving down to a new state, everything's been really difficult, and it's been a financial struggle, and then this happens,” Mcclellan said before placing her order at The Ruby Slipper.
At first, she said she didn’t mind the extra time home with her kids, but she’s more concerned now that the shutdown has entered its third week.
“The first missed paycheck was today,” Mcclellan explained. “So now I just have to either stretch out my last paycheck a little bit longer and just hold off my bills, and if I get back-payed on the first, then everything will be OK. If it doesn’t end soon, then I won’t be OK.”
But there are no guarantees she’ll get that money. She and Lehnert both say they want politicians to stop using them as pawns in the fight over immigration policy.
“I think that’s up to who you voted for and what your personal interests are on the matter, but as far as we are concerned here at the tower, we want our paychecks. Nothing more. We just want to be paid for what we do,” Lehnert said.
Wells Fargo and other banks have also offered to work with federal employees whose income has been disrupted due to the shutdown.