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Fort Drum, employee union discuss implementation of sequestration cuts

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FORT DRUM — Negotiations on the implementation of civilian employee furloughs started Monday as the post faces the effects of sequestration.

On the table for civilian workers are 22 furlough days between late April and Sept. 30 that could lead to 21 to 30 percent reductions in net pay, according to Jeffrey W. Zuhlke, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 400 at the post.

“People will have to choose between putting gas in their tank or food on their table,” he said. “It’s going to be a mess.”

Mr. Zuhlke said the union expects that between 95 and 98 percent of the post’s civilian workforce will face furlough days, with some possible exceptions under consideration for some ambulance and firefighting roles.

“As of right now, we’re anticipating this will affect everybody,” he said.

Mr. Zuhlke said the first day of negotiations were cordial, with both sides realizing the size of the cuts being faced.

“We’re all in the same boat, as Congress continues to drill holes in the bottom of it,” he said.

Leading the negotiations for the post is deputy garrison commander Michael H. McKinnon.

Post spokeswoman Julie A. Cupernall said in an email Monday afternoon that it would not be appropriate for the post’s management to discuss the ongoing negotiations, and that information would be released to the public after negotiations are complete and civilian workers are informed of the outcome.

Monday was the first of what could be a rapid negotiation process, as the post is required to give 30 days notice before it implements furlough days. In order to start the furlough process by late April, Mr. Zuhlke said that negotiations would have to be completed around March 18.

“We’re trying to get this negotiated and settled so those notices can go out,” Mr. Zuhlke said.

He said most employees will face one furlough day per week. Mr. Zuhlke said that discussions are ongoing to determine whether employees can go through all of their furlough days at once so that they can receive unemployment benefits during the unpaid time away from work, or if their furlough day can be scheduled so employees can seek additional employment.

Implementation of the furlough days could also change depending on the needs of the post’s various commands. As one example, the post’s MEDDAC has discussed spreading furloughs through the week to ensure steadier staffing at its facilities.

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