PEKIN — The ongoing government shutdown has lowered morale and caused some to consider quitting their jobs at Pekin's federal prison, a union official said Wednesday.

Karl Newman, who sits on the executive board of American Federation of Governmental Employees Local 701, the unit that represents about 200 workers at the prison, said the time for game playing is over and people need to get paid. All total, there are 255 people at the prison who aren't getting paid but who are required to work as they are deemed "essential."

"One person has already quit, and many others are talking about it. You can miss one paycheck and make do, but when you miss a bunch of checks, then it's a lot harder," said Newman,who has been a federal officer at the jail since 2013.

Newman and others with Local 701 got the chance to discuss the situation with U.S. Sen. Richard "Dick" Durbin, who came to the prison Wednesday morning. Newman said from the start that he and others told Durbin, a Democrat, that they didn't "want to talk about politics. We wanted to talk about opening the government up."

Local businesses, such as Arby's in Pekin and Two P’s pizzeria, also in Pekin, have helped by providing free food to prison employees. But Newman and others don't want to take forbearance on their mortgages or loans, as that affects their financial status in the long term. Rather, he said, the solution is simple: Pay the people who are working and negotiate the rest.

"We are putting our lives on the line. Nothing has stopped here because of the government shutdown except our paychecks. Our new employees are quitting or talking about quitting because they can't afford to pay for the gas to get to work as some of them drive a long way," he said.

And falling behind on bills isn't an option for federal guards as they are required to take a credit check every five years. Having late payments could be grounds for termination, he said, due to the enticement of bribery.