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Furlough notices for Army, Air Force civilians in Europe to go out this week

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Furlough notices for many U.S. Army and Air Force civilian employees working in Europe and some other locations overseas will start going out this week, officials in Europe said Tuesday.

The furlough is expected to begin July 8 and end on or by Sept. 30, the last day of the current fiscal year.

Employees not exempted from the furlough will lose at most 11 days – or 88 hours of pay. Both Army and Air Force officials said civilians can expect to be furloughed 16 hours per pay period.

About 50 Air Force civilians attended a town hall meeting Tuesday morning at Ramstein Air Base to discuss questions about the unpaid leave affecting about 90 percent of the Pentagon’s 750,000 civilian workers due to the current federal budget crisis.

The meeting, sponsored by the 86th Airlift Wing, was one of three planned for the week at Ramstein. The others will be Wednesday from 1 to 3 p.m., and Thursday, from 3 to 5 p.m., at the Hercules Theater.

Bill Stewart, the 86th Airlift Wing vice director, said the Pentagon has not reached a final decision on whether to make the furlough 11 days, but officials must proceed under that assumption to allow for the proper notifications and squeeze in the furlough days. Employees must be notified 30 days in advance, the Air Force said.

One question raised at Tuesday’s town hall was whether furlough days could be taken all at once.

Margaret Montano, 86th Force Support Squadron chief of staffing and employee management relations, said the Air Force was implementing a “discontinuous” furlough, meaning furlough days or hours are to be spread out over the maximum pay periods to mitigate financial and personal impact to employees.

Employees, with the approval of their supervisors, may opt to take one day of unpaid leave per week or, two days within a pay period, as long as the furloughed days aren’t back-to-back. A manager, up to the day prior, can change an employee’s scheduled furlough day, Montano said.

Air Force civilians cannot earn comp days during the furlough period, but in rare cases, they can earn credit hours, as long as the time off for any extra hours worked is taken in the same pay period and an employee doesn’t exceed 64 paid hours per pay period, officials said Tuesday.

The furlough is expected to affect more than 1,760 DOD civilians working for U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa. Officials with U.S. Army Europe, which announced Tuesday that it expects to begin issuing furlough notices from Tuesday through June 5, said it has approximately 1,700 Department of Army civilians in USAREUR and its subordinate units.

“I know the furlough will be stressful and challenging for employees as well as Family members and Soldiers, and everyone who lives and works in our communities,” Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell, Jr., USAREUR’s commanding general, said in a news release. “Leaders and human resources experts will provide as much assistance as possible to help employees develop a strategy for getting through this.”

“I don’t think anybody likes it,” Beverly Mielke, the deputy commander of the 700th contracting squadron, said after attending Tuesday’s town hall. “I think it’s definitely going to affect morale, especially here in Europe. It just feels like GS civilians are being targeted,” considering local nationals and military personnel aren’t part of the furlough.

“I don’t think the rest of the base realizes the effect this is going to have on civilians morale-wise and financial-wise,” she said.

“It’s depressing,” said Jo Green, deputy of USAFE contracting squadron-specialized. “You hear all the time that mission comes first. But with 20 percent of our time gone, it’s going to degrade the mission.”

On an employee’s furlough day, he or she is not to work, and that includes not checking one’s work email or taking work-related calls, Montano said.

“Your supervisor cannot call you on the day you’re furloughed,” she said. “Once I’m on the furlough, I’m not reachable.”

Employees also can’t volunteer to work on their furlough days, or substitute paid leave for a furlough day.

svan.jennifer@stripes.com

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