Federal workers in Bay Area facing mounting bills, empty gas tanks, tuition deadlines

Political battles over a border wall, don't mean much to many workers at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, about 40 miles east of San Francisco, who are facing mounting bills, mortgage payments, empty gas tanks and college tuition deadlines. 

More than 200 workers are coming in every day and facing the reality Friday that they won't see a paycheck. 

Edward Canales is the union president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3584 and says some workers are barely making enough yearly to survive.

"Probably $35,000 to $40,000 starting off as a GS 5 or 6," Canales said. 

Some employees are so desperate, the union president says he's had calls from members asking if they could sleep overnight in the parking lot because they're worried they can't fill their gas tanks. 

"They asked me is it legal to sleep in the car? I said what are you talking about? And they're saying I can't afford the commute," said Canales. 

What's more, he says many of the workers there are veterans.

"I'm mad. I'm very mad. I'm a veteran. I fought for this country. And for you to tell me as an American citizen that you're not going to pay me. I'm very upset," said Canales.

His family is getting hit twice. He just retired last month and is not getting his check and his wife also works at the federal facility so she too won't get a paycheck. 

They have four mouths to feed with a daughter in college, and a daughter-in-law living with them because their son is in the military serving now in Afghanistan. 

He says families' lives are being ruined.

"I have a couple right now that deployed to Afghanistan  back and forth and they got back and now you're telling them they're not getting paid? Really? That's America? That's what I fought for? That's the American Dream? You can keep it," said Canales. 

Samantha Strack is also a veteran and a single mother with two teenagers, who works as an investigator at the federal corrections facility.

"I served 9 years active duty army with two tours in Iraq. Part of why I joined the fed government was I still wanted to serve my country," said Strack.

She says this year, she had to tell her children there was no money to celebrate Christmas let alone pay bills .

"My son, after having that talk with them, he wired me half of his paycheck, and he works for a retails company part time," said Strack, "It hurts me that they have to experience this and that they're thinking we're not going to have a place to live or electricity."

Jose Lau is another veteran and a father of two. He says politicians shouldn't hold his paycheck hostage.

"I don't care what politics you have. What your views are. That's not the problem. The problem is pay us," said Lau.

Being forced to work also means these federal employees can't take another job. Some who have already worked decades and are nearing retirement feel they can't afford to quit and find other jobs. 

"People..will say boohoo go get another job. Well, I've been working for 22 and a half years. I've been putting in to retirement," said Tess Korth, a re-entry affairs coordinator at the federal correctional facility, "I'm not just going to pick up and get another job."

Korth says the shutdown creates another Catch-22. Workers are required to have good credit in order to keep their jobs.

"We can't have bad credit so this is screwing us up because obviously we're going to be having bad credit if this keeps continuing going on," said Korth.

Many of these military families say they feel betrayed and angry at the politicians who refuse to see the workers' plight. 

"I feel that I've been loyal to my government. I've served honorably in both the military and the federal government in law enforcement. But I don't feel like they've been loyal to me. I don't really feel like anybody cares about me. I'm just a number. I'm one of 800,000 that they don't seem to really care about," said Strack. 

California Governor Gavin Newsom announced Thursday that federal employees can apply immediately for state unemployment benefits. 

Still, if the government shutdown drags on, that might help but not be enough to make ends meet for these federal workers.

For more information about how to file for unemployment, click here.