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October 4, 2013

Air Force mechanics at Utah base protest shutdown

Paul Foy
Associated Press

The government shutdown has furloughed some civilians at Hill Air Force Base while forcing thousands more to continue working without any hope of receiving a paycheck, a union leader said Oct. 2.

People are angry, demoralized. I’ve never seen it this bad in the 31 years I’ve been a federal employee, said Monty Lewis, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1592. It represents about 8,000 mechanics, electricians, sheet-metal workers and others at Hill Air Force Base.

How do we feel? Like a punching bag. Like a pawn in a game of chess played by Congress, Lewis, an aircraft electrician, said Oct. 2. That’s how we feel.

More than 50 furloughed workers vented frustrations in a protest Oct. 1 outside Hill Air Force Base, and they plan to do it again. They will gather Thursday outside the Ogden field office of U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.

Aircraft supply specialist Tami Henrikson planned to join the demonstration. Henrikson was furloughed while her husband, a tool crib manager, works without pay.

I’d like to go to work she said. I’d like to be able to pay my bills to keep my house and keep food on the table. I don’t know if my medical insurance is still active. I don’t know how long this is going to take.

Bishop said Oct. 2 he was trying to keep civilian defense employees working and paid. He blamed President Barack Obama for the shutdown in a statement that absolved Congress of any responsibility.

Hill Air Force Base is Utah’s largest employer with some 25,000 federal employees and contractors. It pours about $3 billion into the Utah economy.

About 2,700 of the civilians have been furloughed, Lewis said. Others considered mission critical are being forced to work without knowing if they’ll receive their next paycheck on Oct. 11, he said. The furloughed workers may never be compensated, he said.

Hill commanders referred calls from The Associated Press to a public affairs office that has been shut down.

Lewis said the aircraft mechanics and others being forced to work for IOUs are doing their jobs, but that Congress is failing everyone.

We need them to pass a balanced budget. We haven’t had one in five years. It’s crazy. You couldn’t run a corporation like this, Lewis said.

At best, Congress was approving piecemeal appropriations in lieu of a full budget, “kicking the can down the road,” Lewis said. This time, they can’t even kick the can down the road. It’s asinine.

Throughout Utah, about 10,000 federal employees and contractors have been furloughed, said Juliette Tennert, Gov. Gary Herbert’s chief economist.

Utah’s economy is doing fine but could suffer whiplash if the national economy takes a hit from a prolonged shutdown, she said.

The impact on the Utah economy will be determined by the duration of the shutdown, Tennert said. The impact should be minor to the state economy as a whole, but for individual families it could be challenging.

Leading economists project that every week of shutdown will shave two-tenths of a percentage point off the U.S. economy’s gross national product, she said.




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