WASHINGTON — Nearly 20,000 civilian workers at Oklahoma military bases are set to be furloughed this week in the first of 11 forced days off that will cut their salaries by 20 percent through September.
“There are people who are going to be devastated by this, people who live right on the line, that live paycheck-to-paycheck,” said James Schmidt, the union representative for about 14,000 civilian workers at Tinker Air Force Base who are subject to the furloughs.
James MacDonald, a production controller at Tinker's maintenance center, said the pay cut could mean he can't make his mortgage payments.
“There's no way that I can make up that income,” MacDonald said, adding that he was already working part-time at two other jobs. “I really, really can't afford it. It's just stressful.”
And MacDonald said he and other workers are worried that more furloughs will be ordered in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
“Not knowing ... You can't plan for anything,” he said.
According to base officials at Tinker, work at the massive aircraft maintenance center will essentially shut down on furlough days, leading to a 20 percent loss in production through September. Top Air Force officials have told Congress that clearing the maintenance backlogs created by the furloughs could take several months.
The U.S. Army's weapons manufacturing plant in McAlester will also have to cease production on furlough days.
The impacts at Altus Air Force Base, Vance Air Force Base, near Enid, and Fort Sill, a U.S. Army post near Lawton, will be much less severe since the primary functions at those installations are performed by uniformed personnel. However, all of the installations will experience reductions in some services.
Bases offer counseling
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced in May that most of the military's civilian workers would have to take a furlough day each week beginning next week through Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.
About 700,000 civilian workers for the department are expected to be furloughed. The furloughs are the result of automatic budget cuts — known as sequestration — that took effect in March. The cuts were part of the 2011 deal between Congress and President Barack Obama to raise the debt ceiling, though it was anticipated then that some deficit-reduction agreement could be reached to head off sequestration; that didn't happen.