NORFOLK — More than 39,000 civilian Department of Defense employees are still waiting for final word on how many unpaid days off they face thanks to sequestration-related furloughs.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel provided no clarity Wednesday, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Hagel said furloughs will be, “One of our last choices.” However, he couldn’t say when a final determination will be made, despite the fact that Pentagon leaders have known sequestration was a possibility since August, 2011.
“We’re looking at all of this very, very carefully,” Hagel testified. “We believe within two to three weeks we’ll have our answer to this. There could be some better news. There could not be some better news.“
The uncertainty is unwelcome news in Hampton Roads, where many of the affected workers earn their living.
Among the impacted groups are the 400 members of the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union 110. They’re the people who provide steam power to many buildings at the region’s numerous military installations and all 86 of the Navy’s Hampton Roads-based ships when they are tied to their piers.
The union’s business manager, Kris Begolly, says answers would be helpful for his members as they try to plan their lives and budgets for the remainder of the fiscal year.
“Oh, it’s hard. Our members are pretty much like other working people in the Commonwealth,” Begolly said. “We live from week to week and paycheck to paycheck. And to not know where your next paycheck is coming from, it could be stressful. Oh yeah, they would love to know if they’re going to get a furlough or if our contractors are going to be laid off because they didn’t pick up a maintenance contract in that shipyard.”
Begolly stressed it’s not just his members affected. “Other building trades in the area- the iron workers, the concrete workers, electricians, they’re all in the same boat we are because they do maintenance on the yards and most of the bases in Tidewater, too,” he said.