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Furloughs hit more than 100 at Schofield Barracks

HONOLULU — About 125 BAE Systems Hawaii workers at Schofield Barracks received notice Friday that they are being furloughed immediately for 30 days, officials said.

Alan Hayashi, BAE's director of public relations here, said the job cutbacks are in "direct response" to Pentagon budget cuts.

U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii said the furloughs are a result of funding shortfalls in the Army's "force generation" maintenance program and are not part of the upcoming possibility of sequestration.

Caught in the crunch, however it is defined, are workers including Joshua Elmore, and his story is likely to be retold as Hawaii braces for possible sequestration.

"It puts you in a bind, you know? Still got to pay the mortgage, still got to pay the electric bill," said Elmore, 40, a Waia­lua resident who has two kids in the fifth grade, one in high school and one in college.

Elmore has been a heavy equipment mechanic with BAE at Schofield for 61/2 years, making almost $30 an hour as the primary breadwinner for his family. On Tuesday he was at the unemployment office with co-workers.

Those affected by the furloughs include mechanics, welders and painters who work on Army vehicles.

Robert Lillis, president of Machinists Union Local 1998, which represents about 100 of those furloughed Schofield contract workers, said the Army is withholding funds from BAE because of the budget uncertainty.

"I'll be frank: I'd like the public to know how this is the beginning (of budget cuts), and this is not a good thing," Lillis said. "We don't need a lot of unemployed people right now."

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, warned last week of "devastating" cuts that could cost Hawaii 11,000 jobs, result in furlough days for 18,000 civilian Department of Defense workers and jeopardize defense contracts that average $2.3 billion a year.

"My heart goes out to these (BAE) workers and their families," Hirono said Tuesday in a statement.

Hirono said she supports a compromise "that would replace the sequester with a balanced approach to deficit reduction."

"But if sequestration goes into effect, these furloughs will be just the first impacts on Hawaii families and the isles' economy," she said.

Wells Fargo Securities said that over the course of the past few weeks, "it has become more and more likely" that the sweeping set of automatic federal spending cuts known as sequestration will take place.

Congress would need to take action by March 1 to avert sequestration but is in recess this week.

If enacted, sequestration would mean about $500 billion in Department of Defense cuts and $500 billion in nondefense reductions over 10 years.

Hawaii is ranked by Wells Fargo as being among the states most vulnerable to sequestration, with 15.8 percent of gross domestic product resulting from federal spending in 2010 and 14.6 percent of GDP from defense specifically.

The military also has found itself in a budget bind with the lack of an appropriations bill for fiscal 2013. Instead, the four services have been operating under a continuing resolution and lower 2012 budget amounts.

Defense Secretary LeonPanetta said in January he was ordering the military services to take "prudent measures" to mitigate budget risk, including curtailing facility maintenance, freezing civilian hiring and delaying certain contract awards.

The Army also released a state-by-state comparison of potential budget impacts as a result of the continuing resolution shortfall and possibility of sequestration that predicts a $287 million economic loss in Hawaii just with Army cuts.

A total of 7,032 Army civilian employees could receive furlough days, 191 jobs could be lost from decreased military construction, and 1,276 base operating support contractor jobs could be affected.

Don Barlan, 44, another heavy equipment mechanic with BAE who received the furlough notice, said it seems as if the lives of those affected have been put on hold "because we don't know — are we going to be called back? Or is this going to be a layoff? We don't know which way to turn. Do we start looking for another job?"

BAE's Hayashi said, "We're hoping we can get a lot of those people back, but again, you are looking at a constrained environment. (The Pentagon) is not the same animal it was two years ago or a year ago."
 

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