Furlough fight takes turn as unions turn to little-known review board
Unions are mounting a new attack on the Obama administration's decision to furlough nearly one in two federal workers, rallying thousands of their members to appeal the unpaid days off to a little-known review board.
As of 5 p.m. Friday, almost 6,000 appeals had flooded the offices of the small, understaffed Merit Systems Protection Board — about equal to the number of cases it normally handles in a year.
And while merit board judges typically hear challenges from civil servants who have been demoted, fired or retaliated against for whistle-blowing, the overwhelming majority of the recent petitions are from Defense Department civilians. Starting on July 8, 650,000 Defense employees took the first of 11 furlough days required as part of the $85 billion in budget cuts across government known as sequestration.
“The message here is, we're not going to just roll over and take this lying down,” said David Borer, general counsel for the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union. “We're just getting started.”
The group and other unions are holding workshops across the country to instruct members how to file appeals that seek to cancel the furloughs and award back pay. Several unions have asked the merit board to consider some appeals as class-action cases.
In addition to Defense employees, workers have appealed from the Internal Revenue Service; the departments of Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development and Interior; the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; and the Environmental Protection Agency. In all, about 775,000 federal workers face furloughs of four to 15 days before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
A spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget said it is up to Congress to replace the sequester.
“Because of the sequestration, agencies are being forced to make very difficult decisions, including the use of furloughs, as a means to achieve the spending levels required by Congress,” spokesman Steve Posner said in a statement.
Some employees are claiming that their job responsibilities are comparable to those of colleagues who were exempted from furloughs; others say their agency discriminated against them. But for the most part, they are arguing that the furloughs are adverse actions the government took without sufficient cause to make its mandated budget cuts.
The agencies could have made deeper cuts to programs and contracts instead, the employees say.
The merit board is scrambling to assign each of the cases to its approximately 50 administrative judges. Already understaffed because it is not filling vacancies to meet its own sequestration cuts, the board is overwhelmed with appeals. On Thursday alone, 575 petitions arrived at the board's eight field offices, compared with about 20 suspensions, demotions, removals and other challenges to personnel actions that federal employees file on a typical day.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pentagon puts ‘fork’ in news about ex-captive Bergdahl
- National Weather Service to evaluate work after missed call on storm
- Boy, 13, arrested in fatal stabbing at David Wark Griffith Middle School in East Los Angeles
- Pittsburgh travelers feel effects of Northeast blizzard
- Blizzard howls its way into Boston but largely spares NYC
- Systemic flaws found in safety oversight of gas pipelines
- Ramping up e-cigarette voltage may be more hazardous to health
- Medicare payments to tie doctor, hospital payments to quality rather than volume of care
- 3 million gallons of brine leak from N.D. pipeline
- Evidence doesn’t support charges in Ferguson shooting death, sources say
- House GOP cancels vote on abortion bill