Union protests military's furlough plan

March 20, 2013

Chanting “stop the cuts now,” about 60 civilian employees from Pikes Peak region military installations gathered Wednesday to protest automatic budget cuts known as sequestration.

“We are being political pawns,” Peter Steele, president of the local chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees, said during the protest. “Furloughs are unnecessary.”

The protest outside the Colorado Springs office of Colorado Springs Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, was one of more than 80 rallies planned nationwide by the union, said Tim Kauffman, a union spokesman.

Some employees — most of whom worked at Fort Carson — said they wouldn’t be able to pay their bills in the coming months if plans to furlough civilian workers one day a week are implemented. Others said they were searching for second jobs.

“I got people (prospective employers) calling me, but they want me to work full time — that’s the bad thing about it,” said Joe Gallegos, chief of the prevention and restoration section of Fort Carson’s Department of Public Works.

The cuts were passed by Congress in 2011 as a way to spur congressional leaders to come to agreement on a sweeping federal deficit reduction plan. Congress never reached an accord and, the Pentagon has been forced to cut $46 billion through the end of September and about $500 billion over the next decade.

The cuts include 22 furlough days for about 9,000 Defense Department civilian employees in the Pikes Peak region.

The furloughs — which would start in late-April — amount to a 20-percent pay cut through Sept. 30.

The protest came as Fort Carson and union officials negotiated terms of the furloughs, union officials said.

During negotiations, Fort Carson officials told union representatives that they asked the Army to exempt firefighters and day care workers from furloughs, Steele said. A similar request was not made for police officers or security guards, Steele said.

Fort Carson officials involved in the negotiations could not be reached for comment late Wednesday night.

The prospect of reduced childcare hours could have wide-ranging consequences across Fort Carson, said Stephanie Hooks, a day care employee who also serves as a chief steward for the union.

“They’re not going to have anywhere to take their children,” said Stephanie Hooks. “It’s a ripple effect.”

Lamborn’s spokeswoman, Catherine Mortensen, said the congressman opposed the cuts.

“He’s never supported it, and he didn’t vote for it in the first place,” Mortensen said.

Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654

Twitter @jakobrodgers

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