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Wright-Patt employees want greater say on when to take furloughs

Unnamed Pentagon sources say plans may be in the works to eliminate furloughs or cut them down to 7 days.

Air Force Materiel Command employees want a greater say in when and how they take mandatory unpaid furlough days, union leaders said Friday.

The American Federation of Government Employees Council 214 and the AFMC, headquartered at Wright-Patterson, were back in contract negotiations over 14-day furloughs after an agreement on 22-day furloughs had to be scrapped when the Pentagon reduced the unpaid time off the job.

Wright-Patterson has 13,000 civilian employees who face unpaid time off work starting in June.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that unnamed Pentagon officials were weighing whether to drop the length of furloughs to seven days or eliminate them, but both Wright-Patterson and union officials said Friday they had no information of a possible change.

“As of right now, the official word is we are at 14 days,” said Sue Murphy, an AFMC spokeswoman. “This has been a continuing effort to work out the budget. We’ve been witness to many changes since it originally came out, but the official word that we have right now is that it’s still 14 days.”

As of now, furlough notices would be sent to most of the 800,000 Department of Defense’s civilian employees between May 6-15. The time off the job wouldn’t begin earlier than June 17, according to U.S. Rep. Mike Turner’s office.

Army Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said employee furlough exemptions have not been decided. The Department of Defense continues to plan for 14-furlough days, she said.

Turner, R-Dayton, said the Pentagon was working on an omnibus rebudgeting proposal that could shift where funds are spent, but he couldn’t speculate on if that would mean fewer furlough days.

“The on-again, off-again nature of these furloughs makes it very difficult for families to plan their budgets,” Turner said Friday.

The Pentagon must cut $41 billion, and the Air Force $10 billion, by the end of September because of automatic budget cuts known as sequestration. The military faces half a trillion dollars in sequester spending reductions over a decade.

Last week, the White House pitched $100 billion in spending cuts over a decade to replace the sequester as part of a $3.7 trillion federal budget next fiscal year.

In an April 11 letter to President Barack Obama, Turner criticized the commander-in-chief in part for not restoring sequestration cuts “but instead leaves 20 percent of the cuts in place, risking our national security” and adding $8.2 trillion in debt.

Keith Maley, a White House spokesman, highlighted a Wednesday speech where the president touted his budget to replace “foolish across-the-board spending cuts” while bemoaning the impact the deeper cuts would have on military communities and elsewhere. In the speech, Obama criticized members of Congress who supported deep cuts and now complained about them. Turner has said repeatedly he voted against sequestration.

Thomas C. Robinson, an AFGE Council 214 executive assistant at Wright-Patterson, said employees would welcome fewer furlough days, but they want the flexibility to take them when they want to rather than parcel the days out once a week.

That may mean taking half days or consecutive days off without pay, Troy Tingey, AFGE Council 214 president, said in a telephone interview from Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

“It’s already going to be painful enough,” he said. “Granted, we appreciate the fact that the days are going to be reduced, but it’s still going to have an impact on employees.”

When Congress appropriated $10 billion to the Defense Department’s operations and maintenance budget this year to counteract spending cuts, the Pentagon could have spent that money to eliminate furloughs, Robinson said. “The union knows the Department of Defense had the money to cancel the furloughs they just decided to use the money in other ways,” he said.

Robbins, the Pentagon spokeswoman, said the additional funds weren’t enough to meet the Pentagon’s budget needs.

In the latest talks to reach an agreement on furloughs, Tingey said AFMC has sought to take away three hours a week employees may use as fitness time to stay in shape as long as other work is completed.

Union officials have further concerns supervisors may postpone employees’ paid leave during the furlough period because of concerns over work backlogs, Robinson said.

Murphy said she had not heard if any of those actions are considered. “Our people are very important to us and we’re trying to do everything we can to protect them,” she said.

Budget cuts have lead Wright-Patterson to impose a civilian hiring freeze and eliminate the jobs of hundreds of temporary workers, and cut travel and utility costs, among other measures.

In the latest sequestration moves, Wright-Patterson spokesman Daryl Mayer said Friday the base will consolidate before and after school programs for children to one building from two and close one of two pools for the summer.

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