Workers in Hawaii brace as notices for federal furloughs go out
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
HONOLULU — The federal government has started sending out furlough notices that may affect tens of thousands of workers in Hawaii as a result of sequestration.
Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, the state's largest industrial employer, held a town hall meeting Monday to discuss the issue, the first of about 10 such meetings scheduled for this week with more than 4,000 affected civilian workers, officials said.
Furlough notices are expected to be sent out by mid- to late March, shipyard spokeswoman Jensin Sommer said.
The U.S. Pacific Fleet said the workers would be subject to one day of furlough per week for the last 22 weeks of the fiscal year, starting in late April.
Sommer said the shipyard workforce is "definitely very concerned about the impacts of potential furlough."
"I can't speak for them at large, but I know that individually, people are concerned about the measures that they are going to have to take to make up for the loss of 20 percent of their income," Sommer said.
The $85 billion in defense and nondefense cuts required this fiscal year under sequestration — legislation tied to the 2011 debt ceiling crisis that neither Republicans nor Democrats wanted to see enacted — was triggered Friday because Congress was unable to agree on a way to avoid it.
The Justice Department already notified some of its employees that they would be furloughed for 14 workdays, and the Transportation Security Administration started sending out its notices Monday, the website Politico reported.
TSA did not address the impacts in Hawaii on Monday and said in a statement that "as sequestration takes effect, travelers can expect to see lines and wait times increase as reductions to overtime and the inability to backfill positions for attrition begin to occur this month."
The agency said with TSA staffing levels decreasing, busy travel period waiting times "could double at nearly all of the largest airports."
Robert Lillis, president of Machinists Union Local 1998, which represents about 850 members who work in defense-related jobs in Hawaii, said furloughs still need to be negotiated with labor unions.
U.S. Army Pacific said furlough notices for its civilian workers in Hawaii will be sent out March 18 to 22. That is expected to be followed by an Army decision April 22.
The 22 days of furlough, equal to 176 hours of work, would begin April 23, the command said.
According to an Army PowerPoint presentation, 7,032 civilians in the state would be subject to furlough.
The Hawaii National Guard, meanwhile, said sequestration would result in the furlough of about 1,100 citizen soldiers and airmen who work as full-time federal technicians.
The Guard also started conducting a series of town hall meetings Monday with its workforce to discuss sequestration.
Lt. Col. Chuck Anthony, a Hawaii National Guard spokesman, said the federal technicians maintain aircraft, vehicles, other equipment and facilities.
"So if this thing keeps going for a long period of time — let's say sequester continues to haunt us through the end of the fiscal year — it's pretty obvious this thing is going to start cutting into readiness," Anthony said. "So it's an economic hardship, and it's probably also going to be a readiness hardship."
Separately, without an appropriations bill for fiscal 2013, the Defense Department has been running on lower 2012 funding levels, and the Pentagon has started implementing cuts to make up the shortfall.
Air Guard flying hours for F-22 Raptor fighters, C-17 cargo carriers and KC-135R refueling aircraft have been cut 18 percent, Anthony said.
"The amount of training that we are doing is being greatly curtailed," he added.
The White House estimated that in Hawaii about 20,000 defense civilians alone would be furloughed with sequestration, reducing gross pay by around $134.1 million.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said last month that sequestration "would necessitate furloughs of up to 14 days for a significant portion of our front-line law enforcement personnel" and force the Coast Guard to cut air and surface operations by nearly 25 percent.