“Many of you will be missing eight, 10, 20 days of work,” Alex Bastani, president of Local 12 of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), told a standing-room-only crowd of 400 Labor Department employees Thursday at a lunchtime town hall on sequestration.
“Congress wants the furlough,” Bastani said. “There are some people saying it’s not going to happen. I don’t think they’re in contact with reality.”
This would be the first time that furloughs across the federal government would occur with no chance that lost pay would be recovered. The new terrain is setting off anxiety for employees and confusion for personnel managers as agencies from the Defense Department to the Federal Aviation Administration announce unpaid days.
“We’ve never been through a sequester before,” said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 130,000 workers from the Internal Revenue Service to the Agriculture Department. “There aren’t any rules.”
Unions and management at the Labor Department will sit down Monday to begin five days of bargaining with three unions over furloughs scheduled to start April 1.
“The goal here is to be fair across the board,” department spokesman Stephen Barr said, “to deliver the mission and not let it get harmed.”
But as they prepare to sit at bargaining tables across the government, both sides are finding that little is straightforward — agencies are planning $85 billion in cuts without knowing from one day to the next whether Congress might somehow reach agreement to stop them.
This may be new terrain, but there are rules the government must follow when it comes to furloughs. Personnel managers have been poring over civil service laws for weeks.
No one will be sent home without pay Friday. The soonest furloughs would start is April 1. Employees must be given a notice at least 30 days in advance, and they have seven days to contest it. Most agencies plan to spread out unpaid days to minimize the effect on services and workers.
While the number of days is likely to differ in each section of an agency, all employees in the unit will be hit equally. Agencies have capped furloughs at 22 days. If unpaid leave exceeded that, it would become a layoff.
Furloughs will mean forfeited vacation and sick time, but how much time depends on the number of forced days off. It is unclear whether hardship cases will be considered. As Bastani told Labor Department employees, federal workers should be careful about three-day holiday weekends. Adding a fourth as a furlough day means they will not get holiday pay. Short-term unemployment benefits are an option, he said, but not in Virginia. Contractors working on ongoing projects will not be furloughed.