Chuck Hagel, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, recently decided to furlough most of the Department of Defense's civilian employees 11 days beginning July 12 to counter major budget cuts known as sequestration that began in March. However, with the depot already hiring about 80 workers to handle heavy workloads there, furloughs could slow work schedules, facility officials say. Meanwhile, local union representatives say that the need to hire more workers shows that the depot is too understaffed and its work important enough that it should be exempt from furloughs all together.
Clester Burdell, spokeswoman for the depot, said that due to the facility's work schedule, the first furlough day for most depot employees will be July 12. Burdell said the furloughs could slow work schedules at the depot.
"If we do not have adequate personnel working to meet the mission of supporting the war fighter, the workload will shift," Burdell said. "This may affect our production schedules, but it is too soon to tell."
The depot employs 2,783 civilian workers who repair, modify and upgrade combat vehicles and small arms for the military.
Due to its heavy workload, the depot will fill about 80 positions after laying off all of its 371 temporary workers March 30 said Jennifer Bacchus, another depot spokeswoman. Hiring for the 80 jobs ended Friday.
"It's something the leadership knew about and was planning on after the release of the last temporary employees," Bacchus said. "They just didn't know that 80 were coming back."
Bacchus did not know how many of the laid off temporary workers would get their jobs back.
"We can't put notices out to people who have been let go and ask them to come back," she said. "We have to put the hiring notice out to the whole public."
Shrene Funderburg, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, Local 1945, which represents depot workers, said the extra employees are needed to help with the backlog of work.
"We have got to have them or we can't get the work out," Funderburg said. "We're already having people do overtime ... that's why there is no possible way we should be furloughed."
Funderburg noted, however, that the 80 new workers will also be furloughed this year, negating some of their help.
"They will be subject to furloughs for whatever time is left in our furlough schedule after they have received 30 days' notice of furlough," Bacchus said.
Nathan Hill, military liaison for the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, said furloughing workers while also hiring others is a contradiction that could end up slowing work at the depot.
"It's just not reasonable," Hill said. "It's almost like the DOD is trying to macro-manage something that needs to be done at the micro-manage level."
In a Tuesday email to The Star, U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks, chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee, said the depot's workload is a sign employees there should not be furloughed.
"The Anniston Army Depot's workload is driven in part through the Defense Working Capital Fund, which appears to have sufficient funding," Rogers said. "As a result, I am not convinced these furloughs are necessary."
Rogers said he will continue pressing the Army for answers on why the furloughs are necessary at the depot.
Funderburg said the union plans to continue fighting the furloughs.
"The union is going to file exemptions for everyone ... we're going to oppose each and every one of the notices," Funderburg said. "We're going to call into question everything given to us by the Department of Defense."
Incinerator workers being laid off
Meanwhile, Westinghouse Anniston, the company responsible for shutting down the chemical weapons incinerator at the depot, announced in a letter to The Star on Tuesday that it will lay off 198 workers the week of Aug. 26. An additional 30 employees will be released the week of Oct. 10. The workers will be released from their contracts as the work cleaning the incinerator is finished in preparation for its demolition.
"About 133 employees will remain and they will be engaged in preparing the facilities ... providing support to the demolition activities, disposition of government property, preparation and submittal of closure documentaries and other administrative duties," said Jimmy Creed, spokesman for Westinghouse Anniston.
The incinerator is set for demolition in September.
Westinghouse has laid off hundreds of employees since the incinerator finished destroying the depot's stockpile of chemical weapons in 2011.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.