March 21, 2013

Kittery shipyard workers awaiting furlough notices

Civilian employees at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard will rally Thursday against across-the-board budget cuts.

By Kevin Miller
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Workers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery may be notified this week about the number of unpaid days off they will have to take because of federal budget cuts.

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Many of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard’s 4,700 civilian employees are expected to get furlough notices, as will several thousand other civilian defense employees in Maine.

2011 Press Herald File Photo/Fred Field

The Department of Defense is expected to begin notifying many of its roughly 800,000 civilian employees nationwide Thursday about plans for as many as 22 unpaid furlough days in the period from April 25 to Sept. 30.

Many of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard's 4,700 civilian employees are expected to get notices, as will several thousand other civilian defense employees in Maine. Active duty military personnel will not be furloughed, although the budget cuts will affect training and deployments.

On Thursday, shipyard workers plan to rally in nearby Portsmouth, N.H., to urge Congress to withdraw the across-the-board budget cuts that took effect March 1 after lawmakers failed to reach a compromise on reducing the national debt.

The rally was rescheduled from Wednesday because of Tuesday's snowstorm.

The four U.S. senators from Maine and New Hampshire released a joint statement Tuesday in anticipation of the furlough notices.

"These furloughs are a product of an entirely avoidable situation and it's disappointing that Congress and the President failed to replace the automatic cuts known as 'sequestration' with a comprehensive plan to stabilize our debt and deficits," said Maine's Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and New Hampshire's Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen.

"We need a bipartisan and long-term deficit reduction solution that will avoid the impacts of these cuts, which are already threatening jobs and families in New Hampshire and Maine, and we remain committed to working together to finding that solution."

The effects of the cuts have just started to become visible around the country.

The White House canceled public tours, and security lines at the Capitol and congressional office buildings are long on many mornings because the Capitol's police force closed many entrances to reduce overtime.

In an interview Tuesday, King said the fact that the impacts of sequestration weren't apparent right after the March 1 deadline has created a "loss of urgency, which I think is going to return in the next few weeks" as more impacts are revealed.

"I think, in some ways, there was too much hype over March 2 that the world was going to end. And it didn't, so everybody said, 'Well, this is no big deal,'" King said. "But the fact is, the impacts are happening on a rolling basis, and I think they are going to be significant. I just hope we can continue talking about finding a solution, but right now it is not happening."

There is little optimism on Capitol Hill that the sequester cuts will be replaced any time soon. While the House and Senate are expected to pass a stopgap funding measure to keep the government running through Sept. 30, it would not stop the cuts.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at: 

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