Robins offers workers buyouts

Marian Fraley, the 402nd deputy director, said the cuts were being made to "become better postured for future workloads."

The Voluntary Early Retirement Authority and Voluntary Separation Incentive Program - known as VERA/VSIP - authorizes up to $25,000 to incentivize regular and early retirement, as well as separation.

First consideration will be given to people already eligible to retire, officials stressed.

At least half of the more than 12,500 civilian workers at the local center are eligible to retire or are approaching eligibility. The 402nd employs about 7,000 workers in its extensive aircraft and component repair and overhaul work centers. Most are civilians, including more than 4,000 blue-collar workers.

The initiative that is being announced today is limited to white-collar production overhead workers, both General Schedule and National Security Personnel System employees. Scientists and engineers are specifically excluded, as are blue-collar workers. Employees in this category are not directly paid by congressional appropriation but through a revolving industrial fund the Air Force uses to maintain and upgrade its weapon systems.

In a series of written answers to questions from The Telegraph, base officials said the move is being taken to "meet budgetary thresholds, improve efficiency and pre-empt the need" for an involuntary reduction in force.

"If sufficient volunteers are not found, we will declare positions excess and the Directorate of Personnel will begin employee outplacement," the base said.

To this point, the pace of retirements has not been sufficient. "Our attrition rate has been relatively low historically," Robins said in its response to query, "and we cannot achieve these overhead reductions soon enough."

The price tag for the buyouts is estimated at $9.4 million, although officials say the cost will be "offset in savings from future reductions in salaries and benefits."

Tom Scott, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 987, said he was "not too keen on seeing any cutbacks" but agreed that the number of overhead positions in the 402nd is excessive. Local 987 is the bargaining unit for most civilian workers at Robins.

"They have a deputy for every bloody position and they need to cut a whole lot more," he said. "They don't have anything to do except irritate the production people."

According to a Robins news release, the application window for the buyouts will be Monday through Oct. 12. Those receiving offers will have seven days to make a final decision. Final separation will come in January or February of next year. The actual incentive will be $25,000 or the normal severance pay entitlement, whichever is less.

Mark Shores, workforce development division chief in the 402nd, said incentives "become relevant" when normal attrition does not produce needed staffing reductions or remove skills imbalances.

"VERA and VSIP speed up attrition by providing an incentive for employees to retire or resign," he said.

Robins offered retirement and separation incentives to 225 civilian workers in August 2007.

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