Furloughs could be ahead for thousands of civilian employees at Fleet Readiness Center East at Cherry Point, meaning less money in the hands of workers and possibly less money flowing through the local economy.
“We will find out this Friday whether the Chief of Naval Operations is going to authorize the cuts to FRC East that will essentially stop new aircraft maintenance during the third and fourth quarter of this year, which will result in an $81 million loss to FRC East and by extension our local economy that will coincide with the potential furloughs that civilian employees may face beginning in April,” said James Norment, a representative of the Allies for Cherry Point’s Tomorrow lobby group.
Norment spoke by phone Tuesday as he headed to Washington, D.C. to meet with legislators from North Carolina.
Officially at FRC East, spokesman Dave Marriott said Tuesday that no decision had been made on furloughs, a point echoed days earlier by Col. Mitchell Bauman, commanding officer at FRC East.
“We have not received any guidance through our chain of command to institute a reduction in schedule,” Baumann said in a statement on Friday.
Norment and several FRC East workers confirmed that employees had been briefed on the possibility of furloughs. Norment said department heads had been notified to begin preparing for the possibility of furloughs.
“The furloughs have not kicked in yet and they may not kick in until mid-April at the earliest,” Norment said.
Norment confirmed reports that the furloughs would mean workers would take one day a week of unpaid leave for 22 weeks.
Stephanie Duncan, executive director of the Havelock Chamber of Commerce, said the furloughs amount to a 20 percent cut in pay for the 3,300 civilian FRC East workers. And that cut in pay would impact area businesses.
“Unfortunately, that 20 percent for a lot of people is the discretionary spending that they’re doing within our community,” she said. “That’s the money that they’re able to do the extras with — go to the movies, go out to eat, if any clothes need to be purchased, go to Dairy Queen and get a Blizzard. That’s what the extras are for the people. So when they’re cutting that out, it’s going to cut everyone. It’s going to cut even those that feel insulated.”
Duncan said she is shocked that sequestration, which would lead to automatic budget cuts that would trigger the furloughs, remains a strong possibility if Congress doesn’t act by March 1.
“I’m flabbergasted that we’ve even gotten to this point to where we have to talk about furloughs,” she said. “It is going to be devastating not only to Havelock, it is going to devastate the country. It’s going to kill any job growth that was anticipated in the country.”
Norment said he had meetings planned with N.C. Reps. Walter B. Jones, R-3rd Dist., and G.K. Butterfield, D-1st Dist., while in Washington.
“It’s very important that we be in the middle of that right now and that we reassert ourselves with that delegation so that they have all the ammunition they can get to help them fight this because we don’t want FRC East cut, obviously for our own economy but even more importantly for national security reasons,” Norment said. “These cuts go directly to readiness and the ability of our depot system to support the war fighter. That is certainly one of the most pressing issues that we have right now.”
The short term concerns are the immediate negative impact that sequestration and federal budget cuts would have on the community’s economy, he said.
“And then of course in addition to that we want to make sure that the air station, FRC East and the F-35 are as protected as they can be during the coming budget cuts whether planned or unplanned,” Norment said. “We’re going to have additional cuts in the defense department. I think every one agrees that that’s going to happen. Whether it’s a good thing or not is debatable, but it is certain that there are going to be some cuts, either through BRAC or some other form of mechanisms and it’s very important that we advocate for the air station, for FRC East, for the F-35 because all of those are tied to the future of our community.
“Thankfully we have a very good foundation upon which to advocate and that is that the air station is one of the most important air stations in the national security inventory and is the number one air station as far as the Marine Corps is concerned and the same is true for the depot in terms of its ability to repair and upgrade and maintain helicopters, V-22s Harriers and the F-35.”
Not only could the FRC East civilian workforce be impacted, but also about 1,600 other civilian workers at Cherry Point could be impacted. A message left at Headquarters Marine Corps in Washington had not be returned as of press time.
According to reports, the furloughs of civilian defense department employees would save about $5 billion through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
“We’ve done everything we can do to ensure that the Marine Corps’ readiness is not damaged and to ensure that our civilian workforce is not damaged,” Norment said.