Thousands head back to work at Wright-Patt as shutdown ends

Updated Jan 22, 2018

Michael Heironimus, a Wright-Patterson Air Force Base civil service worker for nine years, trekked to work Monday only to be handed a furlough notice.

The mood was somber, he said.

“There is a lot of apprehension, especially folks who have not gone through this before and do not know what is going to happen,” he said.

The shutdown, at least this time, was short-lived. Thousands of civilian Wright-Patterson workers — furloughed on Monday for the second time in less than five years — are expected back at work Tuesday after Congress passed a short-term spending resolution to fund the government.

However, the spending plan only runs through Feb. 8, so another shutdown is possible if no agreement is reached by then.

An exact number of employees who were placed on unpaid furloughs at Ohio’s largest single-site employer was not available Monday, but 8,700 civil service employees were furloughed in October 2013, the last time a shutdown hit the region, said Wright-Patterson spokeswoman Marie Vanover.

RELATED: Wright Patt: Workers told to report to work even if shutdown remains in place

Air Force Materiel Command, headquartered at Wright-Patterson, issued a statement on its Facebook page Monday afternoon that once employees are notified to return after a shutdown, those in bargaining units must be back to work within 12 hours, while non-bargaining unit employees must show up two hours after notification.

AFMC said it was “unclear how pay and leave may be impacted” from the shutdown. During the last shutdown, Congress reimbursed federal employees for their time on furlough or working during the closure.

The sprawling Miami Valley base has about 27,000 personnel, most of whom are civilian employees. The shutdown shuttered the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, which closed after opening for four hours Saturday, and National Park Service sites around the Dayton region.

‘Significant impact’

The Defense Department expected more than half of its civilian workforce would be furloughed, which was expected to have “a significant impact” on “contracting, medical facilities, as well as morale,” Cmdr. Patrick Evans, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an email.

RELATED: Threat of government shutdown wearing on workers

All military personnel were to report to duty and some civilian employees in positions involved in the public safety or the protection of property or other national security needs were to be exempt from furlough Monday.

They were not expected to be paid until Congress passed an appropriations bill.

Retired Col. Cassie Barlow, the base commander of Wright-Patterson during the prior shutdown, said gearing up to prepare for furloughs — and later calling employees back to work once the closure ends — consumes efforts that could be spent on other work related to national security.

“Considering the majority of the people on base are civilians, it makes it really tough during a shutdown to continue to run operations as normal,” she said.

Shutdown returns

The return of a shutdown was familiar to Wright-Patterson firefighters, who had mixed emotions, according to Brian Grubb, president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local F88 at the base.

Local businesses feeling pressure from government shutdown

Older employees were “overly confident that we’re going to come to an agreement and we’ll get paid and there won’t be much impact,” Grubb said. More recent employees, however, were feeling “uncertain” and “concerned that there won’t be a paycheck next Friday or possibly longer.”

Grubb said Monday he expected firefighters would remain on the job throughout a shutdown, though it wasn’t clear when they would get paid.

RELATED: SHUTDOWN: Air Force museum closes; Wright-Patt workers face furlough

“We’re expected to continue our jobs, yet the guys in D.C. don’t seem to be doing their job while they get paid and we’re not,” he said.

As negotiations continued in Congress early Monday, defense contractors in the Dayton region braced for the fallout.

David A. Burke, president of the Dayton Area Defense Contractors Association, said uncertainty is the biggest challenge.

“Defense contractors are generally unable to provide back pay to furloughed employees, who must use vacation days or take leave without pay,” Burke said.

The impact of the shutdown on contractors would depend whether the work was previously funded, and whether contractors would have access to a military facility where they work, among other factors, he said.

WHIO-TV’s Sean Cudahy contributed to this story.