Union Cries Foul Over Navy’s Furlough Exemptions

The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh is one of the Navy's ships. The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh is one of the Navy's ships. United States Navy

A union representing federal employees has charged the Navy with circumventing Defense Department guidance and exempting civilian managers from sequestration furloughs, though Navy officials denied any wrongdoing.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers pointed to a Defense memo that said furlough exceptions would be limited to civilians deployed in a combat zone or to protect the “safety of life or property.”

However, after talking to Naval Sea Systems Command -- the largest of the Navy’s five system commands -- IFPTE said it became clear the Navy was exempting more employees than the Pentagon had deemed necessary. At all shipyards, IFPTE said, an overwhelming majority of those exempted from furloughs would be management personnel.

Furloughs resulting from sequestration -- across-the-board cuts that went into effect March 1 and threaten to force 800,000 civilian Defense employees to take unpaid leave if a replacement plan is not agreed upon -- could begin at Defense as soon as April 26.

The union added many employees exempted from furloughs are already on “recall status” -- meaning they could be called back to work at any moment, be it a weekday, weekend or holiday, in the event of an emergency -- so there is no need to exempt them.

“If furlough[s] need to occur then they should be shared by everyone,” IFPTE President Gregory Junemann wrote in the letter. “Shared sacrifice can only be achieved if essential exceptions are made ONLY where staggering the absence is not possible and all employees -- management and non-management alike -- share evenly in distributing the burden of furlough[s].”

Chris Johnson, a NAVSEA spokesman, told Government Executive he is not aware of any exceptions that contradict the guidance.

“We are following DoD policy that severely limits exemptions,” Johnson said. “There are no significant exemptions at NAVSEA that would be different from any Defense activity.” 

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