Shipyard Workers Win Sequester Reprieve


May 28, 2013

Federal shipyard workers across the United States won a temporary respite May 14, when the Pentagon announced that they were exempting employees from mandatory unpaid furlough days.

While good news for tens of thousands of civilians employed by government shipyards, more than 830,000 federal employees have already seen their pay slashed by as much as 20 percent due to forced furlough days.  

Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) told Politico that the sequester cuts will have a negative impact on the economy as whole, hurting small businesses reliant on federal workers.

“I think cutting someone’s pay by 10 or 20 percent for no good reason, there’s no good day to do that,” he said.

Congressional Republicans and President Obama agreed to the sequester – which slashes $1.2 trillion from the budget – 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.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel made the decision to postpone shipyard furloughs because of importance of maintaining the U.S. Navy’s nuclear fleet.

“It’s good news for us at the shipyard but we can’t forget there are hundreds of thousands of federal employees who will be furloughed because of this congressionally manufactured crisis,” Paul O'Connor, who heads the Seacoast Metal Trades Council, told the Portland Press Herald. The council represents more than 4,000 workers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in New Hampshire.

Workers at three other shipyards will also dodge the furloughs, but some say they are worried that the reprieve is only temporary.

“As long as sequestration is in effect, there’s talk of more furloughs, layoffs, closures across the country,” O’Connor told WMUR-TV. “We don’t know how that will play out here in Portsmouth, but it’s just a short reprieve.”

The effects of the sequester on other IBEW government members has so far been uneven. Employees at the Western Area Power Administration – which provides hydroelectric power in the West – have avoided furloughs but have seen their training budgets drastically slashed.

But other federal workers are facing a summer with nearly a quarter less pay.  

Says one federal worker on the Federal Workers Alliance message board:

As a civilian federal employee, my salary and pay increases have been frozen, but my expenses (health care, property taxes, food costs, fuel costs, etc.) keep increasing. Our home is underwater because the housing market dropped. I am frustrated by the media who seem to lump all federal employees as overpaid. I work hard and earn every penny of my salary… It gets increasing difficult not to feel depressed about our economy. Equally difficult, it's hard not to feel anger at the politicians who act like children and can't compromise for the overall good of the people who elected them to their positions.


Photo used under a Creative Commons License from Flickr user Rep. Matt Cartwright.