Furloughed Scott AFB employees ordered back to work

News-DemocratOctober 7, 2013 

All of the nearly 3,500 Scott Air Force Base civilian workers furloughed last week returned to the job Monday morning as a result of a Pentagon decision.

The furloughed workers were notified Sunday through their chains of command they'd be coming back Monday, said Karen Petitt, a spokeswoman for the 375th Air Mobility Wing, which oversees Scott.

Starting Monday, the returning workers will receive their pay as normal for the time they work.

At the 13,000-employee Air Force base, the St. Louis region's biggest employer, all of the affected 3,500 civilian workers were back at work six days after they were sent home as part of the U.S. government's first shutdown in 17 years.

Those workers -- about two-thirds of the base's non-military staff -- were to resume collecting pay, though how soon they will be reimbursed for time spent on furlough will depend on how soon Congress passes a budget, Petitt said. The Senate will try to vote this week on a bill that passed the House unanimously Saturday to pay federal workers for days missed.

"While we're back to normal staffing, we are still affected by the lack of budget, working primarily mission-essential items," Petitt said in an emailed statement.

At the Great Lakes Naval Training Station north of Chicago, spokesman John Sheppard said he was among the 90 percent of the 2,500 furloughed civilian workers who returned to their desks Monday. That site is the Navy's only boot camp in the U.S.

The callbacks came after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Saturday ordered 350,000 furloughed military personnel back on the job.

The Pentagon said its lawyers determined a law passed by Congress last year called the Pay Our Military Act covers support workers in addition to active military personnel in the event that a federal spending bill couldn't be agreed upon.

So it called back to work 400,000 civilian employees across the country idled by the week-long federal government shutdown.

About 5,000 civilian workers have jobs at Scott Air Force Base and about 3,500 were furloughed last week.

Congress voted Saturday to provide back pay to the 800,000 furloughed government employees when the impasse is eventually resolved.

Also Saturday, U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, was the only U.S. House member to vote against a resolution allowing military chaplains to still perform their duties during the federal government's shutdown.

That vote came before the vote to pay furloughed government workers back pay, even though they are still not working during the shutdown.

Enyart, who retired last year as commander of the Illinois National Guard, was the only House member out of 401 to vote against the resolution. He said the resolution was "silly" and did nothing to resolve Washington's bigger issues. He called the measure "phony" and said it "didn't do anything."

State Rep. Mike Bost, R-Carbondale, who is challenging Enyart for the 12th U.S. House seat, said he was shocked and upset by Enyart's vote.

Enyart says he doesn't care, insisting he's more about serious governing than political posturing.

Nick Weizman, a Scott facility manager, said he and his co-workers were "absolutely ecstatic" to be called back to work Monday. But the experience of being furloughed because of a political fight in Washington, D.C., has left everyone wary about the future, Weizman said.

"I got a feeling we'll see a lot of reductions in personnel" before July, said Weizman, of Belleville. "You never know what will happen, until it happens. You don't want to be on that chopping block."

Weizman added that he and his co-workers were puzzled about whey they were furloughed in the first place, especially since they will be paid for time off.

"It's a good thing, but a lot of people are scratching their heads thinking, why did they even furlough them if they're going to pay them anyway?" he said. "We could've been here and be productive, and they'd still pay us."

(Some information for this story came from the Associated Press.)

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