Depot workers begin furloughs this week
by Patrick McCreless
Jul 08, 2013 | 4971 views |  0 comments | 111 111 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Workers file out of the Anniston Army Depot in their vehicles at the end of their shift  in this file photo. Photo by Trent Penny.
Workers file out of the Anniston Army Depot in their vehicles at the end of their shift in this file photo. Photo by Trent Penny.
Melody Lloyd expects to be more frugal in the coming months, but not by choice.

The first of 11 days of unpaid leave to offset federal budget cuts began Monday for some workers at at the Anniston Army Depot — forcing employees like Lloyd to alter their spending habits.

"You're not going to get to go out and spend as freely or go out and eat as many times," said Lloyd, of Anniston. "For some workers, homes are are being lost, cars are being losts ... people are beginning to sell their boats and four-wheelers because of the furloughs."

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel decided in May to furlough most of the Department of Defense's civilian employees 11 days beginning Monday. The furloughs are an attempt to partially counter major budget cuts known as sequestration that began in March. The cuts will mean less money for thousands of depot employees, potentially less spending in the area economy and delayed work schedules at the facility.

The depot repairs, modifies and upgrades combat vehicles and smalls arms for the military.

Stacy Umstead, spokeswoman for Defense Logistics Agency Distribution, which has a distribution center for military supplies at the depot, said some of the facility's more-than 220 employees began their furloughs Monday, with more scheduled on Friday. Umstead said on Monday she did not have exact numbers on how many workers were furloughed.

Meanwhile, many of the depot's main 2,817 workers are set to begin their furloughs Friday, said Clester Burdell, spokeswoman for the depot. Eventually all of the depot's employees along with its 521 tenant workers, which include those at the distribution center, the Anniston munitions center and Anniston Chemical Activity, will be furloughed, Burdell said.

Burdell said the furloughs could mean less work completed at the depot this year.

"It may be difficult to meet some of those work schedules with people working less hours," Burdell said.

Shrene Funderburg, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, Local 1945, which represents depot workers, said the furloughs will definitely impact current work at the depot and its ability to bid for future contracts.

"It's hurting us bidding against a private contractor who can do the work faster, plus we can't do the work we already have faster, because of these delays," Funderburg said.

Funderburg said the union will meet with congressional representatives in Washington, D.C., this week to protest and fight the furloughs.

In a Monday email to The Star, U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks, said he was disappointed in the DOD's decision to continue with the furloughs.

"I believe these ill-advised furloughs will not only hurt our military's readiness, but ultimately cost the taxpayer more money in the long-run," Rogers said.

Robert Robicheaux, chairman of the department of marketing, industrial distribution and economics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said the furloughs could hurt the local economy, even though they will cut a fraction of the depot workers' paychecks.

"The emotional and psychological impact over the concern about the future will cause some to increase savings and curtail spending," Robicheaux said. "These kinds of things are going to take place ... so I think the economic impact is going to be greater than just what is happening over those 11 days."

To help ease the financial burden of some depot workers, the AOD Federal Credit Union, whose core membership is depot employees, began offering in March up to $5,000 in special, low-interest loans to anyone impacted by the furloughs. Richard Simonton, president and CEO of AOD, said 71 depot employees have already taken out a total of $200,000 in loans.

"We thought when we started that by the end of the year, we'd have 300 outstanding loans for about $1 million and we're on track for that," Simonton said.

James York of Anniston decided to take a loan from AOD to help cover costs to care for his ill father during the furlough period. York does not work at the depot, but instead drives every day to the Army National Guard in Birmingham to work as a medical technician. York said the furloughs are affecting all government technicians, but the loan will help him considerably.

"It will be enough to get things settled off so I'll get a cushion so when the bills do come, I'll be able to pay a little at a time," York said. "My father has many medical problems ... this loan has really helped me prepare for whatever may happen."

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.

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