A Thousand Sub Base Workers Face Pay Cuts

Furloughs under sequestration could mean take-home pay cuts of 40 percent

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Groton sub base workers talk about pending furloughs
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Groton sub base workers talk about pending furloughs

Sequestration is already here, but most of us have yet to notice any effects. That’s not true for hundreds of people in Connecticut who work for the Department of Defense in civilian jobs. Right now they are figuring out ways to manage financially when their paychecks take a dive next month. WNPR’s Harriet Jones spoke to some of them.

The submarine base in Groton is a hive of activity right now, with several construction projects underway to modernize parts of the base. But if no deal is reached to stop the cuts put in place with sequestration, upkeep and maintenance at the base will be curtailed. Meanwhile, those who will be hit hardest here are not service personnel, but civilian workers.

“This is a simple computation, taking my hourly wage, and you plug that into this excel worksheet, which takes into account things that will be reduced and things that will not be reduced.....”

Jamerson Heywood is an administrative assistant at the base clinic. He’s one of hundreds of workers on base who’ve been notified that next month they must stop coming to work one day a week. With the help of a worksheet provided by the personnel office, he’s been doing the math on just what that will mean.

“For someone like me, after all deductions on my normal bi-weekly pay, I generally take home $1061. And everything is done, after the 20 percent is cut, after they take everything out, I will go from a net pay of $1061, to a net pay, it shows here -- $647.”

That’s effectively an almost 40 percent cut in pay - principally because many of his deductions, like health insurance, will remain level even as his pay goes down.

“For someone like me who has a brand new mortgage of $1106, that basically covers my mortgage, and maybe a week of gas. Food and anything else -- if I didn’t have a spouse that worked -- good luck with that.”

James Kelly has worked on the base for 14 years. He’s a security clerk in the pass and ID office. He says civilian workers here have had no pay raise for the last three years.

“Right now I have no idea how, if the furloughs take place, that my family is going to put food on the table and keep my kids in the activities that they’re doing or even pay for gas to go back and forth to work. Three and a half years without a pay raise is pretty significant.”

Ellen Chirichella, who works in IT concurs - she says those years without a raise have left everyone with no cushion to fall back on, now they’re faced with a sudden pay cut.

“All our parents and grandparents always say, every time you get a pay raise, put it in the bank, save it, save it! Well, we’re not, we’re going from paycheck to paycheck. There’s no savings.”

As well as the furloughs, there’s a hiring freeze in place. Security assistant Jolene Dickinson, who’s a Navy veteran, says for her and her two children that has serious consequences.

“My husband is active duty, and he is stationed in Virginia, has been there since November, and I haven’t been able to find a job to get down there. So me and my kids are stuck up here until the government decides to lift that hiring freeze, or I have the choice of leaving the government service, which I don’t want to do -- but I might be forced to in order to put my family back together.”

Robert Faulise is the local union president at the base for the National Association of Government Workers. He says while everyone here is grateful to have a steady job with benefits, the public perception that all government workers live high on the hog is mistaken.

“It’s a real heartache for many government families to survive on a 20 percent pay cut.”

Civilian workers at the base are sympathetic to the need to cut government expenses, but they’d rather see early retirements and buyouts to shrink the workforce. Faulise says balancing the budget on the backs of his members is unrealistic and unfair.

“Congress needs to do their job. They need to get this budget done - they need to quit playing games with people’s lives.”

For WNPR, I’m Harriet Jones.