Watervliet Arsenal workers protest furloughs
Sequester would effectively cut pay by 20 percent
WATERVLIET Lenny Mallery’s household budget looks like it’s going to be tight this summer.
The welding shop worker from South Colonie is among about 950 civilian employees facing unpaid furlough one day per week from mid-June through August at the Watervliet Arsenal. Losing the day equates to a 20 percent cut in pay for Mallery, who welds base plates for 120 mm mortar shells at the facility.
And the cut in pay couldn’t have come at a worse time. Mallery’s wife gave birth to their first child seven months ago and is already contending with furloughs at her job with the state.
“It’s going to affect me big-time,” he confessed during his lunch break Thursday afternoon. “I’m going to really need to spend my money wisely.”
Like others at the arsenal, Mallery has no choice in the matter. More than $85 billion in automatic spending cuts known as the sequester are threatening to furlough more than half the nation’s 2.1 million federal workers over the next six months unless a new budget agreement is reached by Congress.
That’s left many workers at the arsenal facing their own spending cuts. Many of them are middle-class workers like Mallery, who simply can’t afford a sudden dip in pay.
“I kind of thought Congress would pass a budget so we wouldn’t have to go through this,” he said.
More than a hundred workers joined union leaders at the arsenal to demand an end to the furlough and call for Congress to make more reasonable fiscal decisions. Workers chanted “Hell no, no furlough!” and waved signs reading “We want to work” during the hour-long protest at the south gate.
Tim Ostrowski, local president for the National Federation of Federal Employees, said many people are unaware of the impact the automatic cuts will have on the national economy. He said the cuts will have a trickle-down effect on the economy that few will realize until it’s too late.
“Sequestration came, the world was still spinning, Watervliet was still here and nobody got impacted,” he said. “But guess what? Come middle June, people are going to feel the impact and things are going to change.”
For instance, local businesses relying on the arsenal will also see a drop in sales, Ostrowski said. Everything from the corner sandwich shop to the gas station down the street will be affected — any of the businesses normally visited daily by the arsenal’s workforce.
“People have to realize this is going far,” he said. “It’s expanding to other folks. It’s going to hurt many people.”
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, supported the workers at the rally. He agreed the furloughs could have a damaging impact on the local economy and the nation as a whole. He estimated the automatic cuts could ultimately cost between 750,000 and 1 million jobs across the country — all because Congress can’t find a more precise way to trim the budget.
“It’s a rather bleak outcome because of the unwillingness to take a bold and balanced approach,” he said. “We can take a scalpel to the situation and cut where we can so that we invest where we must.”
Kathy Garrison, regional president for the Civil Service Employees Association, was on hand to support the arsenal workers. She said the unnecessary furloughs will cause a ripple effect that will spur greater problems throughout the area.
“It’s not good for our families, it’s not good for our communities, and it’s not good for anyone,” she said.