Furloughs won't impact shipyard workers

The Department of Defense announced Tuesday that shipyard workers would be exempt from furloughs that will affect civilian employees throughout the military.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said more than 80 percent of the DOD's civilian workers will be forced to take furlough days. Shipyard workers, at 28,000, are the largest exempt group — they join deployed personnel and certain smaller groups to receive that distinction.

"Employees in Navy shipyards will be excepted form furlough because it would be particularly difficult to make up delays in maintenance work on nuclear vessels and these vessels are critical to mission success," Hagel said in the announcement.

Nearly 10,000 civilians work at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton — making up more than half of the Navy's civilian employees in Kitsap County.

PSNS commander Capt. Steve Williamson released a message to workers, calling the announcement "excellent news for us."

"This will certainly take the weight of uncertainty and worry off of our shoulders," Williamson said.

Williamson added that the Pentagon's decision shows that Hagel understands the necessity of shipyard operations.

"He recognizes how important you (workers) are to the defense of our country," Williamson said. "Now it is time to prove him right."

While shipyard workers will not be affected, the DOD will furlough the majority of its civilian workforce for 11 days over the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year.

The furloughs will affect most of the department's 800,000 civilian employees. More than 20,000 of those affected live in Washington state, according to Sen. Patty Murray's office.

"I understand the decision to impose furloughs imposes financial burdens on our valued employees, harms overall morale and corrodes the long-term ability of the department to carry out the national defense mission," Hagel said. "I deeply regret this decision."

Hagel said the 11 furlough days represent about half of what the DOD can legally impose in a year and around half of what the department had originally planned to implement.

Washington state Senator Patty Murray and Congressman Derek Kilmer both took the announcement as an opportunity to denounce the across-the-board cuts that made the furloughs necessary.

“While I’m pleased to see an exception from furloughs for employees at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, these across-the-board cuts and the resulting furloughs will affect our military readiness and have a negative impact on our local economy," Kilmer said in a press release.

Murray's own statement expressed a similar sentiment to Kilmer's, but on a more state-wide scale.

"Unfortunately, this is the very real impact of a policy that must be changed, particularly in a state like ours that is home to thousands of military families," Murray said in her press release.

The across-the-board cuts, or sequester, was implemented by Congress earlier this year and took effect in March. DOD's budget was cut by $37 billion, partially as a result of the sequester.

"This is an unpleasant set of choices, but this is the situation we face," Hagel said.

Civilian furloughs will begin July 8, the DOD said, and will take place at the rate one day per week. Workers who can expect furloughs should receive proposal notices between May 28 and June 5.


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