Federal worker unions make push to stop Defense furloughs

A coalition of federal employee unions launched a campaign Monday to stop the Pentagon from imposing 11 furlough days that are set to begin next week for its Defense Department civilian workers.

The Federal Workers Alliance, which includes 20 labor groups, is asking lawmakers to take further action to eliminate the unpaid leave, which would affect an estimated 650,000 Defense employees as a result of the government-wide spending cuts known as the sequester.

The group is mobilizing its members for in-office visits, letters, phone calls and social-media activism that it hopes will prompt Congress into action.

Charles Dharapak/AP - An estimated 652,000 Defense employees, about 85 percent of the department’s civilian force, are receiving the notices, the result of automatic budget cuts mandated by sequestration.
An estimated 652,000 Defense employees, about 85 percent of the department’s civilian force, are receiving the notices, the result of automatic budget cuts mandated by sequestration. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

“Behind every good soldier is a team of dedicated Defense civilian employees,” said William R. Dougan, the group’s chairman. “There is no good reason to send them home for 11 days of unpaid leave when they want to work. These people need to be on the job — not on the couch.”

The Pentagon initially projected 22 furlough days would be needed to meet its sequester targets, but Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced in May that the number would be reduced to 11 days and that 120,000 workers would be exempt.

The 11 furloughs days are projected to save the Defense Department $1.8 billion, according to officials.

Congress’s last stopgap budget, which funds the government through Sept. 30, provided the Pentagon with greater budgeting flexibility in order to blunt the impacts of the sequester. Without that legislation, the automatic spending cuts would apply evenly to all Defense accounts.

In a statement  Monday, the alliance said lawmakers should “finish the job” by granting even greater budgeting flexibility for the Pentagon.

“Defense has already cut the number of furlough days in half, and with the right flexibility from Congress they can do it again,” Dougan said. “Eleven furlough days are eleven days too many, and we will continue to speak out so long as these workers are threatened by this senseless policy.”

To connect with Josh Hicks, follow his Twitter feed, friend his Facebook page or e-mail josh.hicks@washpost.comFor more federal news, visit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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