TINKER AIR FORCE BASE — Thousands of Department of Defense employees returned to work across Oklahoma on Monday, including about 2,700 at Tinker Air Force Base, but anxiety still lingers over Washington's inability to compromise to end a government shutdown.
Carl Dahms, president of the American Federation for Government Employees Local 916, which represents about 10,700 Tinker employees, said many members fear they might be used again as political weapons in the ongoing battle to delay President Barack Obama's signature health care law. And without a compromise soon to keep the government operating, some worry about when their next paycheck may be coming and how much it will contain.
“The biggest thing for everybody right now is the unknown,” Dahms said. “Nobody knows ... what's going to happen tomorrow. It's a worry for everybody. If I have to start coming into work and I'm not going to get paid until a month or two months down the road, what am I going to do?”
The recalled employees rejoined more than 11,000 other Tinker civilian workers who were not affected by the furlough.
“While the recall provides for the continued support of service members, it does not resolve other critical problems associated with the lapse of appropriations. The absence of appropriations remains extremely disruptive and we remain hopeful that the budget uncertainty will be resolved quickly,” installation commander Col. Christopher Azzano said in a statement.
The partial shutdown that began last week sent home an estimated 400,000 Department of Defense workers nationwide, before Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered over the weekend that they return to work. But for many, uncertainly remains.
Keith Pannell was among the 2,650 civilians who returned to work Monday at Fort Sill, the state's largest Army installation, but isn't certain when he'll next be paid.
The House approved a bill Saturday to ensure all federal employees get their full pay after spending resumes. President Barack Obama said he would sign the measure but the Senate has yet to take up the matter.
“To be honest, we don't know exactly what's going on,” said Pannell, a public affairs specialist. “It makes it difficult to plan anything. I know I have bills coming up that are due and I don't know if I'll be able to pay all those bills.”
At Altus Air Force Base, about one-third of the 1,100 civilians were furloughed and all returned to work Monday, a base spokeswoman said.
At the Oklahoma National Guard, nearly all of the 691 federal technicians furloughed a week ago were back on the job Monday, and the rest were expected to report back to work Tuesday, spokesman Col. Max Moss said. The vast majority are National Guard members, many responsible for maintaining equipment such as helicopters and the F-16 fighter jet.
“While we regret our federal employees had to endure another furlough, we are glad they are back on the job today supporting our National Guard mission,” Moss said.
Meanwhile, many other government offices and activities remain idle.
The National Guard notified forces Monday that drill for the coming weekend has been canceled because of the shutdown. Guard members are paid to attend such training with federal money.
More than 100 Oklahoma Military Department state employees were notified Monday they will be furloughed Oct. 18 as a result of shutdown. The Guard has more than 300 employees statewide and those facing possible furlough are in positions that are at least partially reimbursed by the federal government.
At the 15th Street Grill, the lunch crowd had cleared out but a hazy smoke and the smell of onion burgers still hung in the air Monday afternoon as owner Steve Hosford talked about a shutdown he estimated cut his take last week by 25 percent. Hosford, who supports the new health care law, blamed Congress and not President Barack Obama for the shutdown.
“I don't think it's right to do that,” said Hosford, who said Tinker workers make up about two-thirds of the customers at the Harley-Davidson-themed bar he and his wife have owned for seven years about a mile from the base's main gate. “That hurts everybody. You can't go to work. You can't pay your bills.”
Hosford, 48, of Midwest City, said he relies on a state health insurance program to cover himself and his employees.
“The government should subsidize that stuff,” he said. “Make it cheap for everybody.”
At a table a few feet away sat his stepdaughter, Jessica Johnson, 22, who chooses to go uninsured.
“Can't afford it,” she said.