The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


March 29, 2013

Furlough terrain uneven for federal workers


There has been some recognition on both sides of the negotiating table that Congress, not federal managers, is behind the disruption that the furloughs will create. But tension is high at the Environmental Protection Agency, where the American Federal of Government Employees filed an unfair labor practice complaint this week after management said the union's demand to bargain over some issues arrived too late and rejected it. An EPA spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

Labor has won some victories, though. Most agreements guarantee that an employee's performance review will not be downgraded for project delays, for example. Telework has been protected. When possible, employees can choose their days off as long as their supervisor agrees, and seniority will determine who gets to take Mondays and Fridays. HUD reduced furloughs from 13 days to to seven and then decided it would close the agency on those unpaid days.

"The Department has over 9,000 employees," Karen Newton Cole, the agency's chief human capital officer, wrote in a memo to the AFGE, which represents HUD workers.

"Multiplying the number of employees by seven days would mean that there would be 63,000 scheduling decisions that would need to be made over a 6-month period."

Allowing employees to choose furlough days is "not administratively feasible," Cole wrote, and could lead to a "daunting" number of payroll errors.

Agency managers have agreed to speed up the approval process for outside employment, though a request by an Air Force base in Minot, N.D., for separate weeks off so its employees could get temporary work in the nearby booming oil town was denied.

Employees can donate days to ease their colleagues' load, but they cannot choose which colleagues.

Among the law enforcement employees who will not get a break are the Park Police, which must slice $5 million from its $102 million budget and said it must furlough all 767 employees for 14 days. This is in contrast to the parks themselves, with the National Park Service freezing seasonal and permanent hires and making other cuts to avoid furloughs.

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