CHICAGO (AP) — Thousands of workers at military installations and federal employees based in Illinois prepared Monday for a possible federal government shutdown and unpaid time off.
Nearly 100 federal workers chanted in downtown Chicago, some holding signs that read: "Jobs Not Furloughs." Sherry Estes, an Environmental Protection Agency lawyer, said a shutdown would mean some critical inspections would be put on hold.
"What's problematic is the work that won't be done," she said. She planned to report to work Tuesday, but maybe only to receive a furlough notice and secure files. She described the conservative challenge to President Barack Obama's health care law and looming shutdown as "pure political theater of the absurd."
Federal lawmakers were trying Monday to reach a spending agreement to avert a shutdown after midnight. In Illinois, the most immediate effects would include the closure of one national park in Springfield and furloughs, notably at Illinois' military bases which have faced cutbacks already.
Thousands of workers at Scott Air Force Base east of St. Louis have already weathered unpaid furloughs as part of the automatic federal spending cuts. Two-thirds of the base's 5,000 civilian workers could be furloughed as long as the shutdown persists, said Air Force Col. Kyle Kremer, commander of the base's primary air wing. The remaining civilian employees on the 13,000-worker base would be exempt, since they draw salaries and operational funds from unrelated sources.
Still, Kremer said, the shutdown would not compromise the base's role as a global mobility and transportation hub for the Defense Department.
At Great Lakes Naval Training Station north of Chicago, about 2,500 civilian employees of the roughly 18,000 total could be furloughed, said spokesman John Sheppard. That means parts of the base — the Navy's only U.S. boot camp — would likely be idled, including the Navy drug screening lab.
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