Civilians working at Cherry Point and other area military installations may see a reduction in their number of furlough days, though local officials here are not confirming the cut.
Civilians working at Cherry Point and other area military installations will see a reduction in their number of furlough days.
Workers had been expecting 11 days but now that has been reduced to six, meaning next week could be the last that civilian Department of Defense employees will have one less day of pay.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued a statement announcing the reduction on Tuesday afternoon.
Word of the cut in unpaid leave spread like wildfire through Havelock, where about 4,400 workers draw paychecks, mostly at Fleet Readiness Center East, the massive aircraft rework facility at the base that employs about 3,300 civilian workers.
“As soon as I found out I drove over to see my board chairman Tim Newton and my comment was ‘This is so good news to everyone in the area,’” said Stephanie Duncan, executive director of the Havelock Chamber of Commerce. “See how much our businesses and how much our citizens have been suffering. It’s not fair for them to be the scapegoat for those in Washington D.C. not being able to work together. I would like our legislators to tell us why sequestration happened when they said it wasn’t going to happen.”
Representatives from Fleet Readiness Center East at Cherry Point and others aboard the Marine Corps air base said they had heard of reports on the reduction in furlough days but that official word had not come down through the hierarchy.
The furloughs came about through sequestration in which the Department of Defense had to achieve across-the-board budget cuts. The furloughs started July 8 and had been expected to last through the end of September.
In his statement, Hagel credited Congress and the work of managers across the Department of Defense for finding ways to come up with $37 billion in spending cuts while limiting damage to military readiness.
Civilian workers were initially faced with the possibility of having 22 weeks of furloughs, but that number had been reduced to 11 by May with implementation starting in July.
While frustrated at a reduction in their paychecks as well as with the inability of Congress and President Obama to solve the sequestration issue and prevent the furloughs, some employees took the unpaid day off in stride.
“You can’t really do too much about it, so just make the best of what you can,” FRC East aircraft mechanic Philip Cambron said. “They way I look at it, I’ve got a family, so it’s an extra day that I get to spend with them.”
Meanwhile, a pair of Havelock restaurants tried to lessen the blow of reduced paychecks on Cherry Point civilian workers. Both Our Town Café and Crabby Patty’s have been offering specials and discounted meals on what became known as “Furlough Fridays.”
Still, furloughs could loom over defense civilians. Hagel said in tours of bases in North Carolina and Florida last month that budget issues could mean more furloughs in 2014. In his statement Tuesday, Hagel said the department would be looking at $52 billion in cuts without congressional action.
“Facing this uncertainty, I cannot be sure what will happen next year, but I want to assure our civilian employees that we will do everything possible to avoid more furloughs,” he said.
Hagel called the budget cycle “volatile and uncertain” and thanked the workers who endured the furloughs.
“I know how difficult this has been for all of you and your families,” he said. “Your contribution to national security is invaluable, and I look forward to one day putting this difficult period behind us. Thank you and God bless you and your families.”