TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE — With the threat of budget cuts looming, American Federation of Government Employees Local 1764 President John Santry warned his members at Travis Air Force Base last year to start putting money aside in case that rainy day came.
It arrived Friday as Congress and President Barack Obama deadlocked over the budget, forcing $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts.
“It is very frustrating that this is a very self-made crisis,” Santry said. “We just seem to be in a very uncertain world as to what our future entails.”
Santry leads the local union that represents 2,300 Travis civilian employees, including nurses at David Grant Medical Center, maintainers on the base flight line and office workers in the base’s offices. Of these, about 1,320 will be affected by the federal budget cuts that include weekly furlough days expected to start April 23 and last for 22 weeks.
That is unless Congress and the president cut a deal between now and April 23.
“This is devastating to take a 20 percent punch in the paycheck,” Santry said. “A lot of lower-grade employees are already living from paycheck to paycheck.”
Federal employees had furloughs in 1995 and 1996, but they were later reimbursed for their losses. This time around, “from what I am hearing, this is not going to happen,” Santry said.
Travis started preparing in January for how the budget cuts will affect the Air Force, with an announcement that it was starting a temporary hiring freeze and limiting expenses not deemed critical to the mission as part of an Air Force-wide response to 2013 budget uncertainties.
That included cutting flying missions not directly related to readiness, stopping purchases for items such as information technology upgrades, and deferring nonemergency facility restoration and modernization efforts. Starting March 8, temporary employees who are not classified as critical to the mission will be released and term employees will be released at the end of their terms.
The Office of Personnel Management is expected to send out guidance on how each agency will be specifically affected. Local 1764 leaders have been meeting with Travis leadership to create a formula on how to best schedule workers’ furlough days.
Santry and other union officials fielded phone calls throughout the week from members asking whether they should look for second jobs or if the union can make loans. There has also been work within the union to find ways to alleviate some of the pain, Santry said. It has gone as far as looking into unemployment benefits for those whose salary losses may make them eligible.
“We are going to work with other unions to explore all of those possibilities,” Santry said. “We are working to alleviate the pain of this.”
Employees such as Santry are now looking at how they can cut back household expenses and are putting off projects and trips in order to make ends meet.
One member who called Santry had bought a house that is now under water and needs to have repairs done. The worker is planning to put her house on the market this weekend.
“This is already starting to influence people,” Santry said.
Santry sees the situation as creating morale problems. He said those cutbacks in spending will boil over and affect the economies of communities around Travis as government employees spend less at local stores, gas stations, supermarkets and restaurants.
The lack of an agreement to stop the automatic spending cuts did not surprise Santry.
“It is just a disappointment and all. We have a great work force and people are committed to their jobs. To fear this and go through all this through no fault of their own, it’s a morale buster,” Santry said. “It is frustrating. It doesn’t seem like either side has our concerns at heart.”
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.