The Electrical Worker online
April 2013

Burden of Sequestration Falls on
Government Employees
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Thousands of IBEW members who work for the federal government or for private government contractors awoke March 1 facing a shaky economic future. The sequestration — the series of draconian federal spending cuts totaling $1.2 trillion — went into effect last month, meaning that more than 1 million federal workers face unpaid leave or worse unless Congress takes action to rescind the cuts.

Congressional Republicans and President Obama agreed to the sequester in the summer of 2011. Under that agreement, failure to slash the deficit by $4 trillion by 2013 would result in automatic across-the-board cuts.

Obama and congressional Democrats offered numerous plans to avoid the cuts, but were blocked by the GOP, which rejected any budget plan that did not involve cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Paul O'Connor, a second-generation tradesman at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in New Hampshire, says it will take months before the damage is fully felt, but when it comes, the cuts will hit workers and the community hard.

Federal employees, like O'Connor's co-workers, get a 30-day notice before they can be furloughed, which means starting this month, approximately 6,000 Portsmouth shipyard workers face a one day a week furlough. That amounts to a 20 percent wage cut.

"I don't know about you, but I don't have an extra 20 percent left over at the end of the month I can just give away," says O'Connor, who heads the Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO, at the yard.

And it's not just workers who will feel the pain, O'Connor says. "We're a mainstay of the local economy. Who's going to spend money in the community?"

The IBEW represents approximately 65,000 government employees in the United States and Canada. The majority are employed by private companies under contract with the federal government.

Major military contractors like General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin are expected to lose millions in lost contracts over the next year, potentially costing tens of thousands of jobs.

He says the shipyard has specific deadlines to meet, and every day they aren't working is another day they're behind schedule — which translates into lost dollars.

The sequester will also cut millions in state and local funding, threatening the tentative economic recovery.

"Once this starts trickling down, who knows how it will affect everyone else," says IBEW Government Employees Director Chico McGill. "How will slashing school or law enforcement funding affect construction starts for example?"

O'Connor blames the anti-government rhetoric from tea party activists and many GOP leaders for the congressional stalemate.

"People say the sequestration is only about faceless bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., but it's not," he says. "There are federal workers in every state."