‘95-96 government shutdown put local man in national spotlight

HOUGHTON – During the federal government shutdowns in the winter of 1995-96, Bill Fink went to his job as superintendent of the fairly new Keweenaw National Historical Park anyway, and today he’s hoping thousands of federal employees will do the same despite the first government shutdown in 17 years.

Fink, who was KNHP superintendent from its creation in 1992 until he retired in 2004, said during the first government shutdown at Thanksgiving time in 1995, he went to his job although there was no money for park operations.

“I staged what I called a work-in,” he said. “I refused to quit working.”

Fink said he thought it was important he keep the park operating, but in doing so he was violating the Civil War-era Anti-deficiency Act, which basically states money for government operations can’t be spent unless it has been appropriated by Congress.

“I kept working,” he said. “I did not ask my employes to do the same.”

Fink said a temporary funding bill was approved to end the 1995 shutdown, which lasted just five days. However, when that money ran out, another shutdown occurred in early January 1996, but Fink said he continued to go into work then, also.

During the 1996 shutdown, which lasted three weeks, Fink said federal officials threatened him with arrest and loss of his job. Later, the threat was reduced to suspension, and finally he was given a written reprimand.

During the 1996 shutdown, Fink received state and national media attention for his work-in.

After the 1996 budget impasse was resolved, federal employees returned to work, and they were compensated for their time on furlough.

“Everybody got paid,” he said. “That sets a precedent.”

Fink said federal employees sign a statement saying they won’t steal from the government, and if they go on furlough then get paid for their time off, during which they didn’t work, he thinks they would be stealing from the government.

“Not working means you’re taking from the government that which is not yours,” he said.

“Therefore, employees are obligated to work.”

He thinks the current government shutdown is a political “game of chicken” and “window dressing,” Fink said.

If members of Congress were really serious about the shutdown, all federal spending would be stopped.

Fink said he realizes it’s a longshot very many federal employees will heed his call to go into work during the government shutdown, but if they did, he doesn’t think the Department of Justice would go after them.

“My hope is thousands of employees will work,” he said. “There’s strength in numbers.”