Burden of Sequestration to Fall on Government Employees
March 4, 2013
Thousands of IBEW members who work for the federal government or for private government contractors awoke Friday morning facing a shaky economic future. The sequestration – the series of draconian federal spending cuts totaling $1.2 trillion – went into effect March 1, meaning that more than 1 million federal workers face unpaid leave or worse unless Congress takes action to rescind the cuts.
Says IBEW Government Employees Director Chico McGill:
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 come April, approximately 6,000 Portsmouth shipyard workers face a one day a week furlough. That amounts to a 20 percent wage cut.
O’Connor, who heads the Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO at the yard, says:
And it’s not just workers who will feel the pain O’Connor says.
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. For many of those, layoffs could come right away.
Says Government Employees Department International Representative Dennis Phelps:
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. The maritime industry will be particularly hard hit, with U.S. Coast Guard Deputy Commandant for Operation, Vice Admiral Peter Neffenger testifying before Congress that the cuts will curtail its surface and air operations by 25 percent.
Baltimore Local 1383 represents 70 electricians at the Coast Guard Yard south of the city. Business Manager Barbara Rodekohr says there is a lot of uncertainty about what is in store for them:
O’Connor says the arbitrary and wasteful nature of the cuts is upsetting.
He says the shipyard has specific deadlines to meet, and every day they aren’t working is another day they’re behind schedule.
The sequester will also cut millions in state and local funding, threatening the tentative economic recovery.
O’Connor blames the anti-government rhetoric from Tea Party activists and many GOP leaders for the congressional stalemate.
The Federal Workers Alliance – a group that includes the IBEW and other unions representing federal workers – has launched an online discussion board where federal workers can tell in their own words what the sequester means for them and their family. Click here to read some of those stories.