Thousands of Wright-Patterson employees and 650,000 civilian workers across the Department of Defense will have their unpaid furlough days reduced by nearly half, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.
Mandatory days off without pay will be cut to six from 11 for about 10,000 Wright-Patterson civil service employees and other DOD workers. Furloughs that began the week of July 8 will end by Aug. 17, a Wright-Patterson spokesman said. The loss in total wages at the base is estimated around $21.8 million, officials said.
James C. Bealer, 64, a civilian logistics manager at the base, was among thousands of workers who had less money to pay bills and less time on the job to complete work. He was glad to hear of fewer days out of the office.
“Sure, I’m happy about it, that’s for sure,” he said. “The fact that it happened at all is shameful.”
Bealer said he had a large mortgage to pay on his home in South Charleston while paying college expenses for two daughters as a single parent.
He said he’s witnessed younger employees reduced to tears because they would not have enough money to make a mortgage payment. “It’s anxiety, it’s nausea, it’s not knowing if you are going to have enough money to pay your bills,” he said.
The Department of Defense ordered the unpaid time off as a cost-saving measure among many to deal with a mid-year $37 billion budget reduction because of sequestration, or automatic spending reductions agreed to in the 2011 Budget Control Act. Additional savings allowed the military to curtail the number of furlough days this month, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement.
The military confronts a $52 billion spending reduction Oct. 1, and a total of about $500 billion over a decade.
Workers’ morale has suffered because of furloughs, officials said.
Employees were prohibited from staying on the job more than 32 hours week. Base officials said the time off has caused a work backlog in many departments.
“In the workplace, it’s a morale problem because you can’t do your job the way you want to,” said Thomas C. Robinson, an American Federation of Government Employees Council 214 labor negotiator. Robinson has worked at the base for more than 30 years.
“I probably would say here at Wright-Patterson (morale) is about as bad as it’s ever been,” he added. “They sort of think we are not valued. Our country does not value us. … We feel like the least valued members of our society and it feels crappy.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, who voted against sequestration, met privately Monday with a group of Wright-Patterson furloughed employees.
“While any reduction in unfair and demoralizing furloughs is welcomed, the uncertainty that still lingers in the (Department of Defense) civilian worker community is unacceptable,” he said in a statement Tuesday. “The Defense Department cannot continue to play games with the professional and personal lives of these dedicated employees.”
Bealer was critical of lawmakers in Washington for allowing workers to be forced off the job while in the past “bailing out” bankers and companies in need.
“The people that did all this didn’t have to deal with the same thing,” he said. “They are business as usual. They don’t feel the same pain that we feel.”
“… We’re loyal people,” he said. “We had people who wanted to work even though they weren’t going to get paid.”
The loss in wages was lamented not only among employees. Area businesses rely on base paychecks and drive the regional economy.
“Certainly, this means it will not be quite as onerous, not quite as impactful, but it will still have an impact,” said Phillip L. Parker, president and chief executive officer of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce. “Our concern has always been and will remain that there has to be better ways to reduce the budget without just taking cuts across the board.”
Deborah Gross, executive director of the Dayton Area Defense Contractors Association, said the reduction “clearly showed that the leadership of the country realized the negative effect that those furlough days were having on getting work done that needed to be done.”
While fewer days off work for thousands of workers was good news, the ongoing threat of automatic budget cuts hasn’t receded, she said. “I think it’s a step in the right direction, but it’s a baby step. We have a long way to go.”