“This whole thing is tragic, and we did nothing to cause it,” said Lori Ames of Sparta, a federal employee and president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 1882. “The people who caused it are getting bigger salaries and bigger bonuses than they did before the crash.”
Federal civilian employees at Fort McCoy, Volk Field and Camp Williams began taking furloughs one day a week starting July 1. The furloughs are part of a federal sequestration — automatic, across-the-board cuts to government agencies, totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years. The cuts are split 50-50 between defense and domestic discretionary spending. The cuts don’t apply to active military personnel.
Kind didn’t promise any relief. Congress and President Barack Obama are far apart on a budget agreement necessary to repeal the sequester.
“There is a very real possibility this will carry over into the next fiscal year,” Kind said.
The cuts affect 1,500 Fort McCoy employees and 60 from Volk Field and Camp Williams.
Ames said her net paycheck shrunk by $220. Two other Fort McCoy employees told Kind they were in danger of losing their homes.
Chris Hanson, executive director of the Tomah Chamber of Commerce, Convention and Business Bureau, said the furloughs will impact the local economy.
“Places where people spend their discretionary income — the movie theaters, the restaurants — those are the things that are going to take the biggest hits first,” Hanson said.
Ames said the sequester already is taking a toll on training at Fort McCoy.
“Troops are getting trained, but not at the level they would normally,” Ames said. “It’s something that might not show up right away, but it will show up eventually.”
Dave Clark, a union steward at Fort McCoy, described the maintenance area as a “ghost town.”
“We’ll never be caught up,” Clark said. “Right now, you’re just playing patch and repair.”
Several employees said morale has taken a hit. Madge Waege of Warrens said prior to the furlough, Fort McCoy employees regularly stayed past their normal work shifts if necessary.
She blamed politicians who promote a negative stereotype of public employees.
“I know the public thinks public employees are overpaid and underworked — they don’t have the true picture,” Waege said.
Ames said the furloughs come on top of a three-year pay freeze.
“We’ve already taken a big hit,” Ames said. “I think we all feel we’ve paid our pound of flesh.”
Kind said cuts could be found elsewhere in the budget, including farm subsidies and weapons systems the Pentagon doesn’t want. He suggested including congressional pay in the sequester as a way to break the gridlock.
“If we’re in it, we all need to be in it together,” Kind said. “Maybe that might get a few more of my colleagues’ attention