DAYTON, Ohio — A labor union representing thousands of Wright-Patterson employees has urged members to appeal 11-day furlough notices supervisors handed out Friday after months of uncertainty and waiting.
More than 10,000 civil service workers at the Ohio’s largest single site employer were in line to receive the hand-delivered notices through next week because of defense budget cuts known as sequestration. Combined, the sequester will cost employees about $50 million in unearned wages in the Miami Valley.
“We are really greatly disappointed and saddened that we have come to the day of issuing furlough notices to our employees,” Col. Cassie B. Barlow, commander of the 88th Air Base Wing at Wright-Patterson, said Friday. “This is the week we had to look our employees in the eye … and tell them that we can’t pay them for 11 days. … It’s upon us, it’s real now.”
The American Federation of Government Employees Council 214, which represents more than 6,000 Wright-Patterson workers, has urged all civilian civil service employees to respond to the notices within seven days with arguments against taking the unpaid time off the job. If an exemption isn’t granted, an employee could then appeal to a federal merit system protection board. Furloughs would begin July 8 and last through Sept. 21.
The base has another 2,300 civil service workers, including most intelligence analysts and firefighters, medics, child care workers and a sexual assault response coordinator, who will avoid furloughs, Barlow said.
“The need for the furlough is absent,” said Thomas Robinson, an AFGE executive assistant at Wright-Patterson. “Our opinion is it’s a symbolic action to make everybody the same (and) share the suffering.”
Pentagon leaders have said furloughs are unavoidable because the sequester has forced the military to cut $37 billion in spending by the end of September while paying for war operations overseas and slashing flying hours and deferring maintenance. Top Air Force leaders said last week the military branch has reached a “readiness crisis.”
AFGE Council 214 President Troy Tingey said the hoped-for employee furlough appeals are a strategy with the intent to cause the Pentagon and Congress to reduce or cancel furloughs.
“If we get a lot of people to start doing this we think it will have an impact on it,” said Tingey, who is based at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. “We want all employees, including managers, to appeal it.”
Barlow said Wright-Patterson has worked closely with labor unions to handle the impact of furloughs on employees and base operations.
“At this point, we really don’t have any idea of how many (appeal) letters we’re going to get, but we’re ready,” she said.
One of those who will feel the impact of lost pay is Laura Mays of Dayton.
The 25-year-old legislative liaison at Wright-Patterson said she was “extremely frustrated,” but the single mother of a 6-year-old son has spent months saving money and paying bills early to prepare for the financial hardship.
She’s paying on student loans, a mortgage and child care, among a list of expenses, she said.
“I am thankful to have a job, but it is disheartening to know federal employees are going to be taking the brunt of the sequestration impacts,” she said.
Ken LaRock, a Wright-Patterson audio-visual specialist, took a part-time job as a video specialist with the Dayton Dragons in case he got a furlough notice. It arrived Friday.
“It’s definitely something you never look forward to,” the 37-year-old Dayton man said.
While he loves baseball, the new job has meant “more time away from my family than I’d like, so that’s a big challenge,” he said.
But with his wife, an active-duty military service member, due to deploy to Afghanistan in the months ahead, he said using money from the furloughs would be a “big help” to keep her and other deployed service members safe.