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Fort Drum planning for civilian furloughs

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Fort Drum planning for civilian furloughs
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Now that sequestration is upon us, Fort Drum officials are in the planning stages of trying to figure out the future of the dedicated and much needed civilian workforce. As our Brian Dwyer reports, about 2,300 civilians will see their work week cut to four days, basically a 20 percent or more cut in pay.

FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- The folks who help run Fort Drum say the post wouldn't work without its civilian workers.

"It couldn't," Julie Cupernall with the Fort Drum Public Affairs Office said. There's no way to replace all that civilian workforce with soldier man power. Nor would we want to."

Now that sequestration is more than just a gloom date far in the future, Fort Drum must figure out how to run operations with 2,300 of those workers working one less day a week.

"We don't have a lot of fat to trim here. We have 20,000 soldiers and their families. We operate with fewer civilians than most garrisons our size already," Cupernall added.

Those civilians are the ones that set up and run those live fire training events out on the ranges. They do public works, public affairs, help coordinate and oversee contract work and more.

"We have to figure out a way to marry up all of those needs within the constraints of a 20 percent reduction and find a way forward. It's not a simple task," Cupernall said. "We're not just looking at the bread and butter of reducing the service, but you're also looking at telling very dedicated individuals that they have to do less. They can't come to work for that day.”

A 20 percent reduction that the government employees union on Drum says actually could mean anywhere from a 21 to 30 percent cut in pay. It's something the union says is far more serious than not being able to eat out or catch a movie.

"We're looking at choosing between putting gas in the car and food on the table. Paying the car loan or paying your rent or mortgage," AFGE Fort Drum Local 400 President Jeff Zuhlke said.

The union meeting with Drum officials Monday to discuss any possible ways to soften the blow, including taking all 22 days at once, opening up potential unemployment insurance.

"So that may offset a little bit of the financial impact. Obviously it would be a greater impact for that month that they'd be furloughed, but the unemployment insurance would soften that a little bit," Zuhlke added.

The union says either way you're pulling the band-aid off, it just depends if it's going to happen fast or slow.

Some exemptions are being talked about. They would most likely be fire, police and EMS, those being life and safety jobs.

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