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SF's federal employees close up shop indefinitely, tourists change plans

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More than 48,000 federal employees work here in the Bay Area – many of them at San Francisco’s Federal Building downtown, where federal offices like the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor are housed. These regional offices administer federal programs for large portions of the entire West Coast. 

At around nine o’clock this morning, at the Federal Building, government employees are arriving for the day, but many are also leaving.

Cindy Lemesh, a health insurance specialist at Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) worked for two hours this morning and was heading home.

“I will just be on Politico following the news and seeing if there’s a breakthrough,” says Lemesh.

Lemesh was told to notify people that she was going to meet with in the next few weeks that she wasn’t available.

Many employees leaving the building say they are coming in for a few hours, some for less than an hour. Others, like AFGE Local 2391 Vice President Peter Berzins, are not affected by the furlough.

“I work for the Department of Labor in the workers comp office,” Berzins explains. “We are deemed excepted or essential employees so we have to come in today and work, regardless of the fact that we don’t know when we’re going to get paid.”

Berzin adds, “It’s been an ugly time to be a federal employee.”

Or, a person who works with them.

“I was dropping off legal documents that have to go to the medical center, because somebody might be getting sued or something like that,” says one man trying to deliver documents who’s not being allowed into the building. “I won’t get paid for this job, I drove out here from the other side of town, so I don’t get paid.”

Another department affected by the shutdown is the Internal Revenue Service. Nintey percent of its employees across the nation are on furlough. The department will cease such things as audits, processing of paper returns, and call-center operations. A sign on the security desk at the entry reads: “IRS closed”.

At the cable car turnaround at Powell and Market streets, it’s crowded with tourists.

Charles Austin says the shutdown hasn’t affected his tourism plans in San Francisco. He visited Alcatraz yesterday.