WASHINGTON — Tinker Air Force Base officials are hoping 750 blue-collar employees will accept buyouts this fall as the aircraft maintenance center tries to align its workforce with the workload.
Civilian workers targeted for the early retirement and voluntary separation programs began receiving notices early this month to gauge interest. The effective dates for those who accept are expected to be in October or November.
This is the fourth round of buyouts at the base since 2011 but the first extended to mechanics and other “wage-grade” workers. The first three rounds resulted in about 210 early departures. Should base officials meet their goal this round, the state's largest single-site employer will have shed nearly 1,000 people in less than two years through buyouts.
The survey of workers began just before they were scheduled to take the first of 11 furlough days that will cost them 20 percent of their pay through September.
James Schmidt, the union representative for workers at the aircraft depot, said he thought the goal of 750 employees accepting the buyouts would be met. The furlough days and the prospect of more in the next fiscal year, he said, will give more impetus to those who were already open to the idea of leaving the base, Schmidt said.
It had been a sore point for the blue-collar workers, Schmidt said, that they had not been able to participate in earlier buyout offers.
“I think a lot of the folks who are 55, this is kind of what they've been waiting for,” he said. “I think you'll see a lot of them go.”
The regular retirement, early retirement and voluntary separation programs carry financial incentives; some workers can get up to $25,000 in cash to leave early.
A U.S. Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon said last week that there were no service-wide buyout offers being made to civilians, though plans for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 still are being finalized.
Other Air Force maintenance centers have offered the programs this year as they also try to reshape the workforce.
Even before the automatic budget cuts — known as sequestration — went into effect in March, the Defense Department was required to cut nearly $500 billion over a 10-year period. The services have planned major cuts in active duty forces in the next few years.
Tinker officials said last week that the buyouts being offered now were not related to sequestration or the earlier budget cuts.
About 9,000 civilians work at the aircraft maintenance center, the largest of the three Air Force depots. In targeting the buyout offers, base officials looked at specific functions and years of service.
Schmidt said he had concerns that the workload could at times strain the mechanics that remain.
But he said that workload has decreased and the maintenance systems have been updated.
“There have been a lot of process improvements, so we're doing more with less,” he said.