"I think the only ones who might be happy about this are employees who have used their leave for family or personal reasons and need more time off," said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, one of multiple labor organizations negotiating with federal agencies.
The news out of the Pentagon on Thursday brings relief to civilian defense workers after weeks of anxiety. Nonetheless, it is a bitter pill.
"Do you want to know why we're upset?" asked Betsey Brannen, who does children's programming at the library at Fort Bragg, N.C. "We've supported our president through thick and thin. We watch the White House and Congress go back and forth on the budget. And then we are told to prepare for furloughs."
Brannen, whose husband is an active-duty ordnance technician, makes $30,000 a year. Because of furloughs, the library is looking at closing one day a week, along with the day-care center on the base where her 3-year-old goes when her mother is at work.
"I understand that there's a lot of wasted money [in the military] all around," Brannen said. "But to throw this all on civilians is very frustrating."
The reprieve quickly led to finger-pointing from unions and critics, who say any furloughs are unnecessary. Some services had considered eliminating them, but defense leaders concluded that the pain should be spread across the board, from rank-and-file to top managers.
Furloughs will be a lot more uneven at the Labor Department, which has mandated eight days off at the business operations center and offices of administrative law judges, two days at the solicitor's office, five days at the Employment and Training Administration, six days at the Office of Workers' Compensation Program, and 10 days at the Veterans' Employment and Training Service.