Federal Workers Alliance, IBEW Challenging Furloughs


August 9, 2013


The Federal Workers Alliance has helped coordinate the struggle against furloughs with stickers, online petitions and lobbying.

A coalition of 20 unions including the IBEW has already seen progress from a campaign to challenge the furlough of 650,000 Department of Defense civilian employees. Since July 1, the Federal Workers Alliance has been urging members of Congress to eliminate 11 unpaid furlough days that are part of the federal government’s budget sequester. The furloughs amount to a 20 percent reduction in pay.


On August 6, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel approved reducing the furlough days from 11 to six.

Using an array of tactics to influence elected officials including in-office visits, electronic constituent letters,phone calls, and social media activism, FWA has spread  the message: “Federal employees have already sacrificed more than $103 billion in pay and benefits, and unpaid furlough days are the last straw.”

National Public Radio reports that some federal workers have challenged the furloughs using humor. One employee, who posted a “How I Spent My Furlough Day Facebook page,” helped organize the “Federal Furlough Five-Mile Fun Run for Freedom.” NPR said, “In keeping with the furlough spirit, the race stopped 20 percent short of the advertised finish line.

Many of the 65,000 IBEW members who work in the federal sector—like shipyard workers, Army Corps of Engineers civilian employees  who operate locks and dams or members at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—are not currently affected by the sequester. But others who work under the Service Contract Act, including represented employees at Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, could lose their jobs due to the cuts triggered by the sequester.

IBEW members affected include members of Jackson, Miss., Local 605 and Cleveland, Miss., Local 985 who work for the Air Force Space Surveillance System which will close all sites on October 1, 2013.

Whether or not IBEW members are immediately affected by furlough days or layoffs due to sequestration, says IBEW Government Department Director Chico McGill, “Our members need to support the DoD workers now. The men and women being furloughed today provide essential support to our soldiers, supporting their missions abroad and defending our families against threats at home.”

 “The austerity measures that reduce their pay by as much as 20 percent could be deepened over the next 10 years, impacting tens of thousands of federal workers—including our own members, and our surrounding communities.”  Some of the furloughs are nonsensical and self-defeating says McGill, like telling security workers at a military base in Georgia to stay home, causing civilian workers to stand in line for hours before they could enter security screening to start their workdays.

McGill urges IBEW members to contact their congressional representatives to stop the furloughs. “Studies have shown that $900 billion could be put back into the economy if the government ends sequestration,” he says, citing estimates of increased spending by people earning salaries, helping spur recovery.

 McGill encourages all local unions with jurisdiction over federal workers to respond to a questionnaire sent from the International Office detailing how their members are affected by austerity measures.

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 have offered numerous plans to avoid the cuts since then, but have been blocked by the GOP, which rejects any budget plan that does not involve cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

In March, Paul O’Connor, a second-generation tradesman and leader of the Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in New Hampshire told www.ibew.org: “The rhetoric [about federal workers] has become so acidic and mean-spirited in Congress … People say the sequestration is only about faceless bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. but it’s not. There are federal workers in every state, and even if you don’t work for the government, who isn’t touched by a federal agency in their daily lives—the USDA, the TSA, border guards?”

FWA Chairman William Dougan, speaking for 300,000 federal workers whose unions belong to the alliance, says, “It is entirely possible to reduce mandatory furlough days due to a quirk in the sequestration law requiring all accounts at a federal department/agency to be cut equally.”

Were Congress to grant flexibility to move funds between these accounts, Defense could substantially reduce furlough days—if not eliminate them outright. In fact, Defense has already used this tactic to reduce furlough days from an anticipated 22 to 14, and then 11, where it stands today. The FWA is asking that Congress and Defense “work together to finish the job.”

With thousands of members engaged in shipbuilding from the Naval shipyard in New Hampshire to Huntington-Ingalls historic yard in Mississippi, the IBEW, says International President Edwin D. Hill, has a serious stake in both  budget policy and military readiness.

 A story entitled  “Navy’s Plan for 306-Ship Fleet Fading Away” in Military.com says the Navy will decommission more ships in the next five years than it will commission. If sequestration continues into fiscal year 2014, says Hill, U.S. military shipbuilding will be undermined and extremely qualified workers could be idled.

“Some experts already say that our nation’s naval fleet is not large enough to meet our worldwide obligations,” says Hill. “We can’t be silent while politicians claiming to be acting in the public interest cut into the muscle of our nation’s defense and deplete our skilled manufacturing base.”

IBEW’s members in the federal sector cover a wide range of responsibilities and skill sets. They include men and women who maintain trails in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks for the Department of the Interior, others who work at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Seattle studying the effects of dam development on surrounding natural resources and electricians working for 15 different governmental agencies in Washington, D.C., including Walter Reed National Medical Center and the Government Printing Office.