Federal workers brace for furloughs

Government employees cannot escape budget cuts.
Associated Press
Mar 9, 2013

First there was a two-year pay freeze. Now furloughs loom, as federal agencies make personnel costs a prime target for across-the-board budget cuts that went into effect last week. The result: anxiety and low morale in a work force often envied for its job security.

"It would certainly put a strain on things," said Jonathan Schweizer, 61, an environmental engineer at the Environmental Protection Agency in Chicago who could be forced to take up to 13 days of unpaid leave this year. "I'd probably have to run up some credit card debt or defer maintenance on my home that I'd otherwise consider important."

Government agencies vary widely in how they are dealing with the "sequester," as the automatic cuts are called, according to labor unions that represent federal workers. Federal workers could face seven days of furloughs at the Housing and Urban Development Department, while Homeland Security personnel might see twice that number.

More than half of the nation's 2.1 million federal workers could be furloughed over the next six months. The federal government is the country's single largest employer, with its employees making up about 1.2 percent of the nation's work force.

"A lot of people think federal employees are fat-cat bureaucrats in Washington, but they don't realize more than 85 percent of these workers live outside of D.C.," said Tim Kauffman, spokesman for the American Federation of Government Employees. "A lot of them are not highly paid folks, like VA nurses and emergency response workers."

AFGE, which represents more than 600,000 federal workers, is trying to keep track of all the different furlough plans as their members face the prospect of lost wages during mandatory time off without pay and growing frustration about getting work done.

It seems the federal workforce is under constant attack these days, particularly from Republican lawmakers who want to shrink government and contend federal employees are overpaid with more generous benefits compared to the private sector. Even President Barack Obama supported the pay freeze, though he has issued an executive order that will give workers a 0.5 percent cost-of-living raise set for April. Still, Congress could take action that prevents the raise from happening.

The latest unemployment numbers offered even more bad news for government workers as federal employment, excluding the U.S. Postal Service, shrank by 4,200 jobs last month. That's the fifth straight month of cuts, which may reflect a trend towards greater belt-tightening.

Schweizer conceded that working for the federal government remains a lot more stable than other industries, but he said the comfort level has changed.

"We've definitely been squeezed financially," he said. "People have left and haven't been replaced. That puts more pressure on us as far as getting the job done and it certainly hurts morale in my office."

Some agencies, including the Justice Department, already have sent out formal furlough notices to workers indicating furloughs of up to 14 days could begin as soon as April. All furloughs are subject to 30-day notices and to bargaining with unions representing government workers.

While the unions can't stop the furloughs, they can try to ease the pain for employees by negotiating different times, allowing employees to swap days, or other changes. Unions are also trying to persuade agencies to make other cuts that don't affect worker pay, such as cutting government contracts with private companies.

The Social Security Administration, for example, says it hopes to avoid furloughs altogether, instead saving money by terminating more than 1,500 temporary and other workers and losing more than 5,000 other positions through attrition.

"In some cases, the agencies can figure out ways to slow down federal contracts instead of taking it out of federal personnel," said Patrick Lester, director of fiscal policy for the Center for Effective Government.

But there are limits on flexibility. "If they are largely personnel-driven, there's no way to avoid personnel-related cuts," Lester said.

Meat and poultry inspectors at the Agriculture Department initially were told they might be furloughed for 11 consecutive days between June and July, possibly leading to a meat supply shortage and higher prices. But Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack backed away from that at a House hearing this week, telling lawmakers that the furloughs would not be consecutive after all.

"Furloughs are going to cause disruption," department spokeswoman Courtney Rowe said Wednesday. "We're looking to do it in ways that cause the minimum impact."

At the EPA, officials are planning up to 13 furlough days, with the first four coming between April and June 1, said John O'Grady, president of AFGE local 704. There also would be mandatory furlough days on May 24, July 5 and Aug. 30 — coming around the Memorial Day, July Fourth and Labor Day holidays — that would shut the agency entirely, he said.

Some of the longest furloughs are expected at the Defense Department, where about 800,000 civilian employees face up to 22 unpaid days off over the next several months. The agency has not yet specified when those will happen, but some agencies may try to put off furloughs for several months in hopes that Congress will come up with a budget fix.

More flexibility could be coming soon. A House measure passed Wednesday that prevents a shutdown of federal agencies on March 27 also would grant the Pentagon greater latitude in implementing its share of short-term spending cuts. Senate Democrats could try to expand that flexibility to other agencies, potentially reducing the number of workers who are furloughed.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said he plans to introduce legislation that would allow the Obama administration to exempt from furloughs essential federal employees, such as those who perform food inspections and other urgent functions, so the consequences of the budget cuts would not harm the economy or public safety.

Border Patrol agents at the Homeland Security Department, for example, face up to 14 days of furloughs and a moratorium on regular overtime pay, which could mean a 35 percent decline in wages for the rest of the fiscal year. Union officials warn that could mean trouble for border security, as agents aren't used to stopping work just because their shifts end, especially if they are chasing drug or gun smugglers.

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Follow Sam Hananel on Twitter: http://twitter.com/SamHananelAP

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Associated Press Writer Christopher S. Rugaber contributed to this report.

 

Comments

luvblues2

Scare tactics.

VOTENO

Good. Lay them off.

bored reader

Cry me a river. Take it like a man you liberal pukes!!!! Talk to you messiah. Maybe he can help ya out.

OMG.LOL.WT_

A lot of government "workers" could be furloughed with NO negative effect on anything.

Contango

Tax Freedom Day in OH is Apr. 12. Until then, all hard working Ohioans are govt. employees.

Layoffs anyone?

The Big Dog's back

Off topic again.

Contango

BD writes:

"Off topic again."

Yes you are. Good that you noticed. :)

CAST THE FIRST STONE

when they go back to work they get back pay. only a small portion will loose their job

FlyinHigh

I am formerly from Sandusky and am now a proud employee of the Dept. of Def. at WPAFB. I find it offensive that people are glad that we are getting furloughed. I worked hard to put myself through college and grad school so that I could land a good job. I work extremely hard in my job for the taxpayer to make sure that we all get the defense we need to protect this country. I may not be a soldier in the field, but I make sure the soldier gets what he needs to protect himself/herself properly and also protects YOU. Granted there are some folks that are typical "lazy" government workers. You will get that in any profession. The ultimate goal of the government is to make our government more efficient so that we can keep the same amount of protection by spending less money. While this is difficult to do, I believe we are headed in the right direction. For example, in my career field you need a Masters degree. 20 years ago you only needed a high school diploma (pay scale has not reflected this). By increasing the level of talent, I believe the government is obtaining bright employees that can help us archive our goals. We've taken pay freezes for the last 2 years and we'll take this furlough too. We are taking one for the team because we too want to do what's right. Since our pay is public knowledge, I'll share with you that I make 58k a year (with this pending furlough it will be 20% less) (as previously stated) i have a MBA, and I live in a city that costs more to live in than Sandusky. At the end of the day I bring home just enough to cover my student loans, my rent, and normal bills. Your perception of USG employees may be skewed by the media or general public perception. My point in all of this is that instead of being negative, remember that we are ALL taxpayers and we a ALL citizens of this country. We all want to be protected, and we all want more money in our pockets. Sometimes it's hard to have both.

ladydye_5

Thank you. My family is affected by this also. We already took a pay cut when the State of Ohio terminated my husbands job. Now the federal government wants to cut it some more. We already live paycheck to paycheck. It makes me sick to know that so many want to see us fall even farther behind. These furloughs and cut backs affect more than you know. Many a "little man" will be hurt. The cuts are not happening where they need to. Many of us have nothing left to cut.

mikel

Get another job and let somebody who would appreciate that 58k have yours.

FlyinHigh

Did I complain? No. I am grateful for my job... I also worked hard to get it.

VOTENO

They should start the permanent layoffs with you.

mink77

Get another job?? Did you forget that companies are laying people off?? I've been looking for a job since October 2012!!! I put 40 applications out since December!!! I have not gotten ONE call. When I follow up they tell me they are still not hiring. So, getting another job sometimes sir isn't as easy as you think it is. RUDE

VOTENO

Well, welcome to the real world. What happens when a private company is in debt and broke? Bingo! Layoffs! Just because you work for the Government doesn't make you special. The gravy train is over! Make more cuts! Don't like it? QUIT!

FlyinHigh

When we cut defense spending and it starts to affect you, maybe you'll come up with an intelligent response.

VOTENO

You are sooooooooo intelligent. You work for the government. That says it all.

Contango

@ FlyinHigh:

Unfortunately, the U.S. military industrial complex has controlled the foreign policy and a large part of the spending budget of this country for far too long.

We need a smarter approach because our military adventurism is helping to bankrupt this country.

IMO, we need to go back to the age-old question: Is military action in our own national interest?

For one, we had no business in Libya using our resources to protect European oil interests. Bosnia was another.

ladydye_5

"Gravy train" ? Where is this gravy train you speak of? Heck with the pay cut my husband took, we qualify for FREE LUNCHES for my kids! We do NOT like on a gravy train. I live in the real world. I live it everyday!

VOTENO

There will be more and more cuts. The gravy train is over. Yes, I said the gravy train is over. The U.S. is in debt up to our ears. This is just the beginning. Bring it on. Get the debt under control. Lay off more. Make more cuts

FlyinHigh

Ladydye... In addition to your comment, people don't realize how much this affects them as well. The Register noted that the Federal Government is the single largest employer in the country. This furlough and these cutbacks don't just affect the the workers, it affects the economy. When we cut billions in spending, you can expect the economy to be HEAVILY affected. Car dealerships, real estate, restaurants, and tourism are just some of the areas that will be hit as well. When people can no longer afford certain everyday necessities, unneccesary expenses like a new car, vacations, and even going out to dinner get cutout of their budget. WE will ALL be affected.

Contango

FlyinHigh writes:

"When we cut billions in spending, you can expect the economy to be HEAVILY affected."

The govt. cannot spend one $1 USD that it doesn't take from somewhere else.

The continuation of borrowing and printing trillions of dollars in order to support govt. spending will eventually have disastrous economic consequences for ALL citizens, just not govt. ees.

"The U.S. Debt Crisis Explained In Layman's Terms":

http://seekingalpha.com/article/...

Kottage Kat

Flyinghi,
have already cut those items u mentioned
Do my budget in pencil
I am sorry just cannot afford to waste a tissue crying
Good luck.

Now The Rest of...

The Register might want to check their facts according to the Erie County Economical Development Corporation the Federal Government is not even in the top 12 non manufacturing employers in Erie County.

The Big Dog's back

Single largest employer in the COUNTRY!

Contango

Big Dog writes:

"Single largest employer in the COUNTRY!"

Also true of the Soviet Union. Except there, EVERYONE was a public employee.

They officially had a 0% unemployment rate. How cool is that?

Maybe we should try that in the United Socialist States of Obama?

Strangely, the Castro Bros. are firing their public employees - can't afford 'em.

Now The Rest of...

touche, isn't that sad, largest employer in the COUNTRY and does not produce anything but a rising debt, wonder if they drive a golf cart?

deertracker

Sad that some of you actually are pleased that others are struggling. Some of you constantly complain about government while benefiting from it. FlyingHigh hit the nail on the head. These cuts will have a "trickledown" effect. Don't complain when the trickle reaches you. Remember your glee at others misfortune.

swiss cheese kat's picture
swiss cheese kat

So sad people like you keep praising your beloved leader. You should remember this: People suffering and Obama goes golfing.

The Big Dog's back

People were dying and bush went golfing. What's your point?

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