Friday, December 6, 2013
The effects of the federal government’s shutdown ranged widely in Maine on Tuesday, from furloughs for 1,500 workers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery to a bottleneck that kept Portland’s Rising Tide Brewery Co. from selling its newest beers.
Nathan Sanborn, co-owner of Rising Tide Brewery in Portland, says the budget stalemate may slow federal approval of some of his new beer labels and delay sales.
John Ewing/Staff Photographer
Statewide, the shutdown sent thousands of federal workers home without pay, closed a major national park and left business owners bracing for economic damage. Most said they could weather the shutdown – as long as it ends within a few days.
If those days turn into weeks and Congress reaches no budget compromise, consumers and businesses in Maine will feel much more pain, they said.
“If the government shutdown extends beyond two weeks, I’m going to start to get worried,” said Nathan Sanborn, who owns Rising Tide Brewery with his wife, Heather.
Sanborn said the company has some new varieties of beer that need label approval from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, a division of the U.S. Department of the Treasury that regulates beer labeling and breweries, among other things.
“Until the government is up and running, we can’t get those labels approved,” he said, and the same problem will affect other breweries in the state.
The shutdown could be devastating for hundreds of workers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, who received furlough papers Tuesday along with instructions to leave the premises by noon, union officials said.
About 1,500 of the 4,608 civilian workers at the shipyard have been furloughed, said Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich with the Navy’s Office of Information. Nationwide, 75,000 civilian Navy employees were sent home without pay.
Stephen Graves said the furloughs left him and his shipyard co-workers disheartened and angry at federal lawmakers for allowing the shutdown to happen.
“I feel like it’s an unfair, unneeded set of events,” Graves said. “I’ve got a 4-year-old that plays better than these people do together.”
Debbie Jennings, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers at the shipyard, said all workers were required to show up Tuesday, not knowing whether they would be sent home or allowed to stay.
About half of the union’s 1,600 members were sent home, with no word on when to return or whether they would be paid, Jennings said.
“There wasn’t a lot of direction,” she said. “We were just told to listen to the news and check the (shipyard’s) website.”
Like other federal agencies, the Navy separates employees into groups depending on the work they do. The Kittery shipyard repairs and maintains nuclear-powered submarines. Maintenance work there and at the Navy’s three other public shipyards may continue for some deployable ships, or when a delay would “endanger national security or create risk to human life or property,” Rebarich said.
Employees who provide “support services” are more likely to be furloughed.
Maine has more than 10,000 federal employees. Those who are sitting at home this week will have a lot of time to think about who put them there, said Arvard Worster, chief of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2024 at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
“This whole thing is so unnecessary,” Worster said. “We just need Congress to stop playing their political games.”
Congress has the authority to pay furloughed workers retroactively, but it remained unclear Tuesday whether lawmakers would be willing or able to do that in the current partisan climate.
The furloughs follow unpaid leave already imposed on federal workers because of the “sequestration” budget cuts that began in March. While most Kittery shipyard workers were exempt from the sequester-related furloughs, some were ordered to stay at home without pay.
In the private sector, small businesses in several industries are likely to suffer if the shutdown extends beyond a week or two, said business leaders in Maine.
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