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

Kimo

Sam Walton business model at work.

Export you jobs.

Import your goods.

More trickle down breeds the need for more trickle down.......
.

Second Opinion

Workers at the Detroit and Windsor bridge make $123,000 right out of college, and I'm suppose to shed tears over this news?

Why did Obama hire 243,000 people last month for possitions in the Federal Govt and then take away from us essential services? Because he's like the school systems, punish the terrible taxpayers that say ENOUGH.

Free Man

Time to close NASA Plumbrook for good !!!

TOPGUN01

I AGREE!WHAT GOOD IS IT ANYWAY!CLOSE NASA!TURN IT IN TO A PARK!GAME HUNTING!

TOPGUN01

GLAD TO SEE THESE CUTS!THEY ARE LUCKY TO HAVE A JOB AT ALL?WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD!

Gardenman

I remember quite well how people here in Erie County spoke of those who worked at New Departure and the "gravy train" they had. Then it was Ford out on 101 and all the high wages they got. All this made American cars too expensive and those Toyota's, Honda's etc sure would show them. Course those complaining never worked at thise places but they sure wanted too. They wanted the 3 hired for the same job and why 1/2 the shifts at GM, Ford, etc were sitting around the plant sleeping or so they thought.

Those who complained failed to look beyond the end of their nose for had they many might have seen the plaques at Firelands Hospital indicating major gifts from those companies for life saving facilities. They failed to see past the end of their nose or they would have seen major gifts given by individuals who worked at these plants to hospitals, YMCA, and countless community organizaions. '

NO all they wanted to hear was folks have it easy out there and I don't and darn it I want it too. The proverial grass is always greener on the other side of the street.

So now here comes those same people but its not Ford, GM etc they are running down its the Federal Government employees and if they can they will deface state and county and city employees. If a school asks for more money they they need to cut dead wood RIGHT??? why it must be....if they need more money they must not be spending what they have correctly. Oh have we heard the complaints and moans ALWAYS FROM THOSE NOT EMPLOYED BY ERIE COUNTY mind you how the county wastes money. Or it Sandusky city government.

NO the constant complainers are not gone they have just switched to the government branches. Boils down to I don't have what you have and I WANT IT.

I honestly have to wonder if after they die and they go to their reward they will be complaining to God they are not getting their cut of things in paradise.....I am sure they will for it's what they do best......complain and run others down.

VOTENO

And where are Ford and GM at now??? That's right! Gone! KBI is laying off and winding down and Ford sold out and the new company came in and got rid of all the Ford employees. Great examples you used there!!! History repeats itself. Unless we lay off and make cuts the U.S. will end up like the local Ford and GM plants. Thank you for sharing.

arnmcrmn

While layoffs are never a good thing, where were the government peoples support for all the other companies that have had to downsize since Obie took over? Oh thats right, its ok to cut, cut, cut...as long as its not my job. I know not all of you hold this saying true, but many do.

All Obie and MEEEchelle have to do is stay at home, act like they really know what it is like to feel financial pain (even though they never will), stop vacationing all over this planet and stop his pompous celebrity touring. This alone will save 1000's of federal jobs.

starryeyes83

New Cars , vacations, and going out to eat have always been unneccesary expenses....unfortunately, people over the years, have regarded those things as "must haves" like high dollar shoes, cell phones and other things.

starryeyes83

Let's not forget all the hundreds of Billions of dollars we shell out EVERY year for ILLEGALS....but some of you are okay with that OR have been in the past.

So is it a different answer , now?

VOTENO

How about all the foreign cars you see teachers and other government workers driving? You want our support? I don't think so! Lay them all off and rehire those that want to work.

Contango

Also, public employee pension plans invest billions of dollars in foreign cos. and foreign debt.

See the largest public employee pension plan, CA's Calpers investment returns:

"The Euro Stoxx 50 Index, a European index fund, gained 10.3 percent; the Hang Seng Index, a Chinese index fund, gained 20 percent, and the FTSE 100 Index, a United Kingdom index fund, gained 3.5 percent."

http://www.ocregister.com/articl...

They invest with those "job killing" private equity firms as well.

KURTje

Gardenman so true! Many complaining never knew lay-off. Many came here (years ago) for better jobs & now itch. They moan about lack of THEIR services too. Most would not listen as decent jobs went away years ago. Now/soon they will get their just deserts. And we wonder why we are in trouble........

Gardenman

VoteNO I was unaware that Ford or GM was out of business in the US.......or you mean just locally......sounds like both GM and Ford had viable business here in Erie County enough so that they were sellable to other companies. Don't see a problem in that at all.

If you desire cuts and layoffs in government and I am not against that BUT you nor I then have a foot to stand on when services drop. This past week I was on a flight from Los Angeles to Cleveland. Due to snow in Chicago I got routed thru Dallas. Result flight from Dallas to Cleveland was missed. The close DFW airport now at 11:30 PM ......one of the largest airports in the world. That was a new change as TSA cut all personnel after 11:30 PM. I can only tell you as passengers were forced out into the night cold to wait 5 hours Republican and Bohener etc were as popular as a dentist doing a root canal.

So fine to cut and layoff BUT also be fine with the negative results of that as well.

VOTENO

GM dumped NDH to Delphi which in turn sold it to KBI. KBI can't survive under the old GM mentality. Layoffs started last week at KBI. GM still owes money to the Government. It's over.

Contango

TSA? Typical scare mongering tactics to shake down citizens for revenue increases.

If a city wants to raise revenue, they threaten to lay off firemen or cops.

By executive order, Pres. BHO could have made smart "cuts" in the budget elsewhere. But instead, he chose to continue his political games.

The GAO found hundreds of billions spent on duplicate federal programs, why not start there?

http://www.coburn.senate.gov/pub...

The Big Dog's back

Why doesn't coburn talked to boehner? The House controls the purse strings. More propoganda as usual pooh.

Contango

Since the idea for the sequester "cuts" came outa the WH, Pres. Obama must approve of them huh? So why is he whining, mutt?

The Big Dog's back

Playin' dodgeball again huh pooh.

Contango

Other than digging, scratching and sniffing do canines actually think?

So Congress gave Pres. BHO what he asked for, but he "really" didn't want it?

Who's playing games?

eriemom

Instead of working with Dems, House repubs passed a bill to hold military manufactures harmless, so that the cuts do not affect that spending. I got a call from a young military man today. He said that his education money has a hold on it.

So, who's playing games? I'm sure the idea was to force the two sides together to a compromise.

Contango

@ eriemom:

Got proof or it is just anecdotal nonsense?

So where's Pres. BHO's list of "cuts" or is it just more political hot air?

If $85B causes the end of the world, this country is in SERIOUS fiscal trouble.

What happened to "We can't wait"?

Thought that Mr. Obama was all about goin' around Congress for the "good of the people," but on this point, he's powerless?

You've got a master political game player here and refuse to see it.

Contango

"MoS Diary: Adele lands her biggest ever gig at Michelle Obama's 50th birthday party":

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvsho...

Hopefully, the First Lady will have say something encouraging to say at her big birthday bash for all those furloughed fed ees. in their distress over the sequester "cuts."

Let them eat cake?

The Big Dog's back

Jealous again ehh.

Contango

"I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less..."

- Sen. BHO, Aug. 28, 2008

How's all that hard work comin'?

http://promises.nationaljournal....

Darwin's choice

For Big Dog.......obama = failure !

whocares

The private sector has taken enough hits. The economy becomes an issue when the Government sector starts getting hurt. Theres a lot of people in the private sector that have gone to school worked hard and watched their dreams disappear. Why should we pay more taxes and have less.

Free Man

!CLOSE NASA!TURN IT IN TO A PARK!GAME HUNTING!

goofus

People Obozo is hiring thousands of workers and giving 1.5 million to study why lesbians are fat LOL
http://pjmedia.com/blog/governme...
http://cnsnews.com/news/article/...

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