With furloughs looming for thousands of Charleston’s military and federal employees, a union spokesman said it’s time for the Lowcountry to get mad or prepare for a region-wide hit on everyone’s pocketbook.
“The community at-large needs to call their congressional leaders and say ‘enough is enough,’ ” said Everett Kelley, national vice president at the Atlanta regional office of the American Federation of Government Employees.
If the March 1 triggering deadline for sequestration isn’t addressed, everything from car sales to restaurants and many other retail operations will lose as take-home pay drops off, he said.
Federal workers should get in the phone-calling mix too, Kelley said. “Tell them to quit playing games with their future.”
Kelley’s comments came as Joint Base Charleston began issuing directives on how it would handle its furlough requirements if the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts take effect a week from today.
One avenue announced Thursday is a series of “town hall” question-and-answer meetings sponsored by the base. Times and locations were not set, pending the deadline actually being crossed. More than 5,000 federal civilians work for the military in Charleston.
“The command here at Joint Base Charleston is working diligently to share information since we understand how troubling this is for our civilian teammates,” a spokesman said.
Unpaid furloughs are expected as a first step if the cuts go through, with workers likely staying home one day out of every five for as long as 22 weeks, probably beginning in late April.
Some government workers interviewed Thursday said they already have begun developing financial option plans.
Narissia Skinner, executive secretary to the leadership of the Army Corps of Engineers, said she and her husband, who also works for the military, have decided they won’t take a vacation this summer and will have fewer dinners out if they are furloughed.
Additionally, the couple is discussing changing their tax exemption levels so they have more money in their pockets this year, as opposed to waiting for a tax return next year.
The likelihood of furloughs is becoming “more and more real for us,” Skinner said.
The corps has 250 civilian employees tied to the Charleston office.
Meanwhile, uniformed military personnel, plus most medical workers, appear to be safe against forced reductions.
“The Office of Management and Budget has made clear that VA is exempt from sequestration,” according to a release from the Charleston Veteran’s Affairs Hospital Thursday. “This includes care, benefits and administrative expenses.”
Locally, the Air Force listed its other exceptions to include employees deployed to a combat zone, “non-appropriated fund” employees, and select employees necessary to protect life or property, which includes health professionals, police and security guards, and firefighters.
In random interviews Thursday with civilian defense employees in the area, most said they were in a state of “wait-and-see,” but were calculating what a 20 percent loss of wages would mean.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.