Rock Island Arsenal workers got a dose of good news Thursday. The Defense Department has cut the number of days that employees will be furloughed and delayed the implementation.
The Defense Department said Thursday it has cut the number of furlough days from 22 to 14. Implementation won’t start before mid-June. U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack’s office said it had confirmed the cut in days and the delayed implementation.
The Associated Press reported that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made the decision Wednesday. It comes on the heels of Congress’ approval last week of a continuing resolution that shifted $10 billion to operations and maintenance accounts, giving the Pentagon some flexibility in dealing with $43 billion in cuts through the end of September.
Thousands of workers across Arsenal Island will likely be affected by the decision, and it comes roughly two weeks before furloughs were scheduled to begin. The unpaid days were set in motion because of the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, which began to take effect this month.
A union official on the Arsenal said Thursday the announcement was welcome.
“Anything’s better than nothing. We’re glad they’re moving. I wish they’d move to total elimination, but any reduction is a benefit for the federal employees,” said Craig Flenker, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, Local 2119. The local represents employees at the Arsenal’s Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center.
He said employees also are worried about getting enough workload at the factory.
The national president of AFGE, J. David Cox Sr., said Thursday the Pentagon should eliminate the furloughs entirely, saying the additional money Congress approved makes them unnecessary.
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It’s still not clear how many workers on the Arsenal would be affected even by the scaled-back furloughs.
The Pentagon initially indicated nearly all the 800,000 civilian workers would be affected. But the Defense Department said last week about 24 percent of Army civilians likely would be exempted, while about 5 percent of Navy and Marine Corps civilians would be furloughed, The Associated Press reported. The AP said those numbers could change, however.
Most of the workers on the Arsenal fall under the Army’s command.