Thousands of Wright-Patterson civilian employees are expected to receive furlough notices between March 21 and March 25, the base commander said Friday.
The unpaid time off the job will hit about 13,000 employees when the 22-day furloughs, or one day a week off work without pay for the next 22 weeks, begin, according to Col. Cassie B. Barlow, 88th Air Base Wing base commander.
Employees have to be notified 30 days before furloughs can begin.
“We’re trying to remain positive through all of this,” Barlow said. “This is a devastating cut. This is the first time we’ve done a furlough and not looked at reimbursing our employees.”
The Department of Defense has said the furloughs will begin no earlier than April 26 unless Congress takes action to curtail the impact of sequestration, or $46 billion in across-the-board cuts to the military’s budget between now and the end of the fiscal year in September.
Employees would not receive unemployment compensation because they would remain employed and their decrease in income would not be significant enough to qualify, according to Benjamin Johnson, an Ohio Department of Job and Family Services spokesman.
“If the furlough days were taken consecutively, and the employee was not paid during that time, the employee likely would be eligible for unemployment compensation,” he said. “Taking it all at once would leave the employee with no income for a significant period of time, and when the furlough days are spread out the employees would continue to collect a paycheck.”
Base supervisors are expected to meet with employees to work out which days during the week they will be off the job, Barlow said. Less than 100 employees are expected to be exempted from unpaid time off.
The colonel said that in 1994 — the last time federal employees were involuntarily furloughed because of a temporary government shutdown — workers were reimbursed.
“That’s not the point this time,” she said. “The point is to save dollars.” The Pentagon has estimated furloughing most of its 800,000 civilian workers will save up to $5 billion.
Troy Tingey, president of American Federation of Government Employees Council 214, which represents thousands of Wright-Patterson workers, said he expected the union to have a memorandum of agreement on the furloughs completed this week.
AFGE had asked to let employees take the time off “all at once,” but government managers balked at the idea, Tingey said in a telephone interview Friday from Hill Air Force Base in Utah.
“We understand they still have a mission to do,” he said. “We get that.”
Taking days off all at once was meant to “send a message to Congress,” and to give employees time to get a second job or possibly qualify for unemployment compensation, he said.
In another sequestration cutback, Wright-Patterson will save about $300,000 in tax dollars from the cancellation of the popular Freedom’s Call Tattoo, Barlow said Friday. The one-day event, which has attracted up to 75,000 people in past years, had been set for June 28 on the grounds of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. An evening fireworks display the same night will replace the event.
“We simply just cannot spend appropriated tax dollars on such events as Tattoo this year while we get ready to enter into a furlough of all of our government civilians and we’ve already obviously entered into a sequestration that has had about a 20 percent cut across the board,” Barlow said.
Barlow said she’s concerned Wright-Patterson workers with decades of experience might decide to retire. “So far we haven’t seen a huge number of retirement applications, but that is a concern that some of them will get a little frustrated and just say, ‘OK, that’s it.’”
Retaining younger workers with a few years on the job is a concern, also.
“We’ve already invested time and energy and years in them and we’d hate to see them go as well,” she said. “But it’s hard when you’ve only been around for five years and something like this happens, it’s hard to see the stability in government because you haven’t been around for very long.”