VOL. 37 | NO. 10 | Friday, March 8, 2013
Furlough notices expected soon for federal workers
NASHVILLE (AP) — Over the next couple of weeks, notifications of planned furloughs are expected to be sent out to federal employees who work on Kentucky military installations as unions negotiate the impact of automatic spending cuts.
Thousands of federal employees who work at Fort Knox, south of Louisville, and Fort Campbell, on the Tennessee state line, could face up to 22 unpaid days off work from April to September as a part of the cuts triggered March 1. Union officials say they expect that the sending of required 30-day notifications to employees will begin in mid- to late March.
Fort Knox, home to the Army's Human Resources and Recruiting Commands, has about 10,000 civilians and contractors, and installation spokesman Kyle Hodges says about 5,200 of those civilian workers face furloughs.
Vicki Loyall is the president of local 2302 of the American Federation of Government Employees based at Fort Knox, which covers nearly 3,000 c ivilian employees.
Both sides will be in a hurry to reach an agreement on furlough details because only half of the fiscal year remains to take the days.
The military will evaluate some positions that could be exempt based on health and safety concerns. But Loyall said, "There are not going to be a lot of exempted employees."
She said the union will press for employees to have flexibility in scheduling the furlough days. She said that not only do employees lose money out of their paychecks, but changes to work schedules, such as when shifts start or end, could have negative ripple effects on families and home lives.
"I would like to minimize the domino impact on employees that comes with changing work schedules," she said.
Loyall said she's getting a lot of calls from employees who are worried about making car or house payments when the furloughs start and even questioning whether to cancel their health insurance.
"I am hopeful that this do es not last the full 22 weeks," she said.
At Fort Campbell, military leaders have said that nearly all of their 8,000 civilian employees could face furloughs, even as thousands of active-duty troops from the 101st Airborne Division are deployed to Afghanistan.
The salaries of service members are exempt from the automatic budget cuts, but Maj. Gen. James McConville, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, said last week in a speech before leaving for Afghanistan that the cuts would hurt the community and staff that supported the division through 12 years of war and multiple deployments.
Support staff at the installation would be reduced to a 32-hour work week and have a 20 percent cut in their pay as a result of the furloughs, according to a copy of his speech. Children attending military schools on the post would be go to classes only four days a week because of teacher furloughs.
Robert Jenkins, a spokesman for the installation, said no date had bee n set for employee notification of the planned furloughs, but it was expected to start within the next couple of weeks.
Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde, a Defense Department spokeswoman, said the school systems on military installations are working carefully to manage the spending cuts while maintaining accreditation standards. Summer-school programs have not been canceled, and spring sports programs would continue, although adjustments might be made to accommodate furlough days.
Schools will not combine classes, Hull-Ryde said, and when furlough days are scheduled, the schools will be closed, except in cases where tests need to be administered.
Michael Priser, president of the Federal Education Association, a union that covers about 6,000 teachers and staff that work for the Department of Defense's school systems worldwide, said that even during a previous federal government shutdown in the 1990s, military schools remained open.
"We have always been considered mission-essential," Priser said. "They have never shut down schools."
Schools at Fort Knox and Fort Campbell both end the year in May, a month earlier than some other military schools in the United States. Priser said those school systems will have a harder time trying to schedule furloughs before the school year ends and still be prepared for end-of-year exams.
"This is an undue burden on military personnel in a time of war," he said.