Shipyard workers get relief with reduction of furlough days

"It was definitely welcomed news," said Arvard Worster, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2024 at the yard. "I talked to some of my guys, and their checkbooks were getting pretty thin."

The union represents about 300 of the 1,200 shipyard workers who were not exempted from furloughs. The bulk of the shipyard work force, about 4,600 employees, did receive exemptions.

The Pentagon announced the reduction in furlough days Tuesday. Officials said the Pentagon found sufficient savings in the final months of the current fiscal year to lessen the burden on those who have had to take a day off per week without pay since early July.

Officials said last week that they would need to find about $900 million in savings to eliminate five of the 11 furlough days.

The decision came as about 650,000 civilian Defense Department workers began their fifth week of furloughs, which have riled employees and prompted many to complain directly to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel during his visits to military bases in recent weeks.

The 11 furlough days were expected to save roughly $2 billion.

At the local shipyard, in at least one instance, furloughed workers added to the length of a submarine overhaul when a part could not be delivered on time.

Worster said his workers had been anticipating a reduction in furloughs, "but like everything else, until you see it in writing, you're not going to count on it."

He said it has been difficult for furloughed workers to live with 20 percent less in their paychecks.

"They're pretty glad they only have one more day to go," Worster said.

The furloughs were necessary for the Pentagon to recoup $37 billion in budget cuts this year, due to automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration. Pentagon leaders initially announced 22 furlough days would be necessary to close their budget gap, arguing they needed money for other priorities, including combat training, flight hours and efforts to bring tons of equipment out of Afghanistan.

Since then, budget chiefs have been analyzing the numbers in a persistent effort to find unspent dollars as they neared the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

About 85 percent of the Defense Department's civilians have been subject to furloughs.

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