The Environmental Protection Agency began notifying about 17,000 employees on Wednesday that the organization would implement its first phase of sequester furloughs starting April 21.

An additional nine days of furloughs could be possible for affected workers between June 30 and the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, the memo said.

The EPA issued notices on March 4 that employees could face a total of 13 furlough days, officially starting the clock on the 30-day notice that employees are entitled to before unpaid leave kicks in.

EPA personnel who receive notices of imminent furloughs have 30 days to appeal the agency’s decision to the Merit Systems Protection Board.

The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents about 2,500 EPA workers, said it is negotiating with the agency to mitigate the impact of unpaid leave and provide employees with maximum flexibility.

“These employees are middle-class workers who are in the third year of a pay freeze,” said NTEU president Colleen M. Kelley. “These furloughs will hurt their ability to pay their bills and serve the public. This is incredibly unfair to them and to the public.”

Union leaders have said employees should be allowed to choose which days they take off work and even volunteer to take additional furlough days to help out colleagues who are less prepared to handle reduced hours.

According to the EPA’s latest memo, the agency plans to impose mandatory unpaid leave for furloughed employees on May 24. That move gives affected workers four days off for Memorial Day weekend.

If the second phase of EPA furloughs are necessary, the agency said it would impose mandatory unpaid leave on July 5 and August 30, providing four-day weekends for Independence Day and Labor Day, respectively.

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