Two employees of a Patuxent River Naval Air Station contractor were fired after participating in a demonstration Monday, in which they complained that their employer has been late in paying them and has reneged on promised benefits.

About 30 employees from the contractor McWane and Company Inc. (MACI) picketed in front of the contractor's office in Lexington Park, demanding the resolution of their concerns.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Andrea Shoemaker, one of the employees who organized the protest, was given a letter informing her that she was terminated.

"It's total retaliation," Shoemaker said Wednesday.

But Gilbert J. McWane, president of MACI, said Shoemaker and the second employee were fired for filing false time sheets indicating that they worked while the demonstration was under way. "We can't bill the government for the time she spent demonstrating," McWane said Wednesday. "It was a clear violation of ethics."

Shoemaker said she sought to amend the time card before starting the walkout, but was not allowed to do so. "They never gave me any opportunity to change my time card," she said.

"She had every opportunity to change it," said McWane, who added that other employees who participated in the demonstration filed accurate time cards.

In an interview on Tuesday, McWane had said that employees who walked off their jobs would not be disciplined. "I have no problem with it, but it doesn't accomplish anything," he said in the earlier interview.

The MACI employees work in administrative jobs at offices throughout the base, but base officials reported little disruption at the installation, which employs 17,000 people.

"There was very little impact on us," said John Romer, a spokesman for the base.

The employees complain that MACI has failed to provide benefits packages, has paid workers amounts that do not correspond to the number of hours worked and has issued paychecks late on several occasions. Employees say the problems have worsened over the past six months.

"The mishandling of the Pax River employees' livelihood by MACI is appalling," the employees said in a statement. "Unfortunately, many of these employees are young single women and single parents who desperately need their jobs."

McWane acknowledged Tuesday that the company has had payroll problems but added, "They're already being resolved."

In an e-mail sent to MACI employees on Nov. 10, McWane acknowledged the late payments and attributed them to accounting problems. "I was not pleased at all that we had employees waiting well into the evening for paychecks," he said.

McWane said Monday's protest involved a "vocal minority" of MACI workers. "Of the 400 employees, most are understanding," McWane said. "But if I have one unhappy employee, I'm concerned."

Shoemaker said many employees were afraid to walk off their jobs for fear of retribution. "I'm afraid myself," she said before she was notified of her termination. "A lot of these women are single mothers, and we're very afraid."