As the partial government shutdown grinds into its third week, multiple news outlets have reported that behind closed doors President Donald Trump prefers to call what’s happening a “strike.”
According to Washington Post reporter Josh Dawsey, Trump dropped that particular term during his meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Friday, drawing “puzzlement” from his audience.
Trump acknowledged afterward in his press conference at the White House that he does not like the term “government shutdown,” as no one blamed for one would. “I don’t call it a shutdown,” Trump said, before offering a less-than-concise alternative: “I call it doing what you have to do for the benefit and the safety of our country.”
Anyone with the slightest understanding of the impasse in Washington knows that what’s going on is not a strike. A strike is a work stoppage initiated by workers. But in this case, some 380,000 federal employees are furloughed and another 420,000 are working without pay because Congress and the White House have not funded their agencies.
In labor parlance, what’s happening is more like the polar opposite of a strike: a lockout. That’s a work stoppage initiated by management, in which workers are denied access to their jobs.
Sure, it’s a lockout. That’s what it is.
Jacque Simon, AFGE
Like a strike, a lockout usually happens during a labor dispute, in an effort to gain leverage. There was no workplace dispute that led to the shutdown. Rather, lawmakers and the White House simply failed to carry out their responsibilities and appropriate funding for roughly a quarter of government functions.
But to government employees, the effect is the same: Workers who are willing to clock in are denied paychecks and many are barred from even venturing onto the job site, as a result of decisions made by management.
“Sure, it’s a lockout,” Jacque Simon, policy director for the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 700,000 government workers, told HuffPost. “That’s what it is.”
The shutdown began on Dec. 22, when funding lapsed for several federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Interior Department. Workers whose duties are considered “essential,” such as law enforcement, have continued to work.
Any pay those workers get would have to come retroactively, through an act of Congress, after the government reopens. The same goes for the hundreds of thousands of workers who are furloughed and not working. Those workers are not even supposed to check their emails during the shutdown.
Trump has threatened that the shutdown may go on for months or even years. If it stretches into Monday ― and there is no sign of an imminent breakthrough ― it will become the second-longest government shutdown ever. And if the shutdown lasts into mid-January, it will set a new record, regardless of what Trump wants to call it.
HuffPost readers: Are you affected by the government shutdown? Email us about it. If you’re willing to be interviewed, please provide a phone number.