In the weeks since the Defense Department began informing employees that it plans to slash civilian time cards by 88 hours before the end of the fiscal year, at least 37 people have petitioned commanders for an exemption, said J.C. Mathews, the public affairs chief at Fort Gordon.
Although the unpaid leave could amount to a 20 percent pay cut for nearly all the 3,100 civilian workers on the post, Mathews could confirm only the appeals filed in Fort Gordon’s Army Garrison, which employs 422 people to manage the post’s day-to-day functions.
Though he was uncertain how many people have challenged furloughs in the rest of Fort Gordon’s civilian workforce, Mathews said “there are definitely appeals.”
Pentagon officials have expressed doubt that any furloughs will be overturned, but they said that commanders will review “the merits of each package” and provide a written notice on their decision by July 5.
The furloughs – scheduled to start July 8 or later – are part of the Pentagon’s effort to make up $37 billion in cuts from sequestration that kicked in March 1 and cut $20 billion in the operations and maintenance accounts that fund civilian employees.
The off days – which most organizations at Fort Gordon will observe on Fridays – are expected to save the Defense Department $1.8 billion.
Employees are urged not to pin their hopes on getting a furlough decision overturned by arguing seniority, stellar performance, financial hardship – or possibly any reason.
Officials have said that the sweeping, across-the-board nature of the cuts, with exceptions granted for reasons of safety or national security, means that appeals claiming the furloughs are being applied unfairly probably won’t work.
Defense has granted furlough exceptions to civilians in war zones; some medical workers; non-appropriated fund employees; and, citing the damage done to the military by a growing number of sexual assaults, those working in sexual assault prevention and response programs.
Despite the small number of exemptions, the head of the largest union of federal employees said workers should not feel shy about pressing their rights.
If all else fails, said J. David Cox, the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, workers should file appeals with the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, an agency that directly handles furlough decisions through the federal government.
“The Defense Department’s decision is a slap in the face to its civilian workforce, most of whom live paycheck to paycheck and are barely able to pay their bills without the additional challenge of furloughs,” Cox said. “DOD’s workforce is not only the government’s largest; it also includes the largest number of hourly and low-paid federal workers. Many earn less than $12 per hour. Furloughs of 11 days will amount to a pay cut of 20 percent for the remainder of the year, and combined with three years of frozen pay levels, these cuts will send many into dire straits.”