TribLIVE

| USWorld

 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Furlough fight takes turn as unions turn to little-known review board

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

Daily Photo Galleries

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By The Washington Post
Tuesday, July 23, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

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.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.

 

 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read Nation

  1. 2 women advance to final phase of Army Ranger training
  2. Obama to mandate steeper emissions cuts from power plants
  3. Food industry players fighting proposed dietary guidelines drop millions on lobbyists
  4. Marines finally ready to roll out controversial fighter jet
  5. State Department accuses top Clinton aide of violations
  6. 4 dead, 65 sickened in Bronx by Legionella
  7. ‘Fast, Furious’ pistol was sold to gunman in foiled Texas terrorist attack
  8. Construction of giant bridges sparks curiosity, high demand for public tours
  9. Pressure mounts for Biden to join 2016 White House race
  10. Obama’s nuclear deal lobbying sways Democrats
  11. Midwest farmers pessimistic of fall harvest amid damaging, long-term rain