Schofield Barracks contract workers get reprieve
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
HONOLULU — The Army said it found about $495,000 to prevent the layoff of nearly 300 contract workers at Schofield Barracks through the end of March with the hope that Congress will address a militarywide funding shortfall by then, officials said.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, both Hawaii Democrats, pushed for solutions to avoid the planned layoffs affecting BAE Systems workers at Schofield.
Among the Army actions expected is the cancellation of a Friday "stop work" order that would have cut the BAE contract, officials said.
Army Material Command, which oversees the BAE Schofield contract, "found through efficiencies the required amount to keep these guys on," said Col. Mike Donnelly, a spokesman for U.S. Army Pacific at Fort Shafter.
"I want to acknowledge the Army's efforts to preserve the BAE contract with the limited funding it had available, and rescind the March 15 stop work order," said Hanabusa, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. "After making inquiries, and having been in touch with them as this situation unfolded, I have been pleased with their response and dedication to finding a solution."
Schatz and his staff also have been working to reverse the planned layoffs.
"For the first time in a while, there is real hope," Schatz said. "If we buy ourselves a few weeks and then pass a continuing resolution by March 27, then we will have saved these jobs and preserved an important part of our national defense capability."
The Army's Donnelly said it is a "welcomed" fix.
"The command is extremely relieved that we were able to find a solution in conjunction with our contracting partners and our elected leadership here at the end of the day," Donnelly said.
A BAE Systems official in Washington, D.C., could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
About 125 BAE Systems workers at Schofield received notice in mid-February that they were being furloughed immediately for 30 days. For 70 of those affected employees, the layoff became a termination, and they are not counted among the nearly 300 whose jobs are being saved, officials said.
G. Michael Warren, deputy public affairs officer for U.S. Army Pacific, said at the time that the contracted employees' jobs were terminated as a "direct response" to a Department of Defense directive to prepare for the across-the-board federal budget cuts known as sequestration.
All of the services were asked to propose reduced spending, some as high as 40 percent, Warren said. Army Materiel Command was ordered to plan for the cancellation of depot maintenance and look at contracts that did not directly support deploying units.
The Schofield layoffs included managers as well as mechanics, welders and painters who work on Army vehicles. Officials said the layoffs were planned to come in waves, eventually reaching more than 300.
Mario Castro, a BAE heavy equipment mechanic for nearly seven years at Schofield who is married and has two children ages 5 and 3, said he was furloughed in mid-February.
The 32-year-old Ewa Beach resident ended up working two days the following week, two days the week after that, and now is back at work again.
"It's kind of real hectic for me because I never even got my first unemployment check yet," he said.
Castro said he was called back because of his seniority and because "they needed a few bodies."
"I don't know, I feel that … we're not being told the whole truth (about whether the Pentagon has the money or not), and I don't know what the deal is. It's definitely affecting our lives," Castro said.
The lack of an appropriations bill for 2013 left the Pentagon funded at lower 2012 levels under a continuing resolution that is set to expire March 27.
In response, and with sequestration looming, the services started making cuts. The Navy, for example, canceled $35 million in Pearl Harbor shipyard repairs by BAE on the destroyer USS Chafee.
Congress is working on a continuing resolution to fund the government through the remainder of the fiscal year.
"This all depends on the ability of Democrats and Republicans to come together on a continuing resolution, and so while there's progress (with the BAE Hawaii contractor jobs), we're not out of the woods yet," Schatz said.