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Fort Drum civilian workers return to work Fridays as furloughs end

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FORT DRUM — The post’s civilian workers were back on the job Friday as a period of one-day-a-week furloughs came to an end.

Many of the unpaid days during the six-week period were on Fridays. The furloughs caused affected workers to lose at least 20 percent of their pay during those weeks.

“Obviously it’s welcome news that everybody’s back,” said Jeffrey W. Zuhlke, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 400. “We were hearing a lot of horror stories about the financial holes that people were falling into as a result of lost pay.”

About 1,800 workers on post were affected by the furloughs, a result of federally mandated budget cuts better known as sequestration. The furloughs were reduced from 11 days to six earlier this month because of savings found by the military.

Despite his enthusiasm for the civilian employees’ return to a full-time work schedule, Mr. Zuhlke said he did not have any new insights into what may be coming for the 2014 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

“The fight continues as long as sequester’s in play,” he said. “Right now there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.”

He said one of his biggest worries entering the new fiscal year is the threat of a longer furlough period that would cut more deeply into the salaries of the post’s workers. Adding to the uncertainty of the looming budget year are planned cuts to active duty units, like the recent call for headquarters elements such as that of the 10th Mountain Division to reduce their budgets and manning by 25 percent.

“We don’t know how it’s going to play, but none of it looks good,” Mr. Zuhlke said.

The union president said that many of his workers take personal pride in the services they provide for soldiers and families on post, which made the furloughs even tougher.

“It’s the personal impact on them, but also the personal impact for the people we service, and that’s the soldiers of Fort Drum,” Mr. Zuhlke said. “There’s a level of almost guilt, that we can’t do the same thing we do for these people that we have done before.”

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