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DOD employees protest civilian worker furloughs

Retired Navy veterans and current Department of Defense civilian employees Ron Witherell,  at far left, Rick Dutton and Ty Welch protested furloughs Friday at the intersection of Highway 20 and Pioneer Way. - Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times
Retired Navy veterans and current Department of Defense civilian employees Ron Witherell, at far left, Rick Dutton and Ty Welch protested furloughs Friday at the intersection of Highway 20 and Pioneer Way.
— image credit: Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times

Discovering that Department of Defense civilian furloughs were imminent, Rick Dutton and a couple fellow employees knew what they had to do.

“We decided that on the first day of furloughs, we’d come out and let people know what’s going on,” said Dutton, a DOD supervisor at the base HAZMAT facility.

He retired after 21 years in the Navy as a senior chief storekeeper.

Dutton, along with two fellow DOD employees, protested with signs at the corner of State Highway 20 and Pioneer Way in Oak Harbor Friday morning.

Starting last week, roughly 1,200 civilian workers at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station are slated for an 11-week furlough, comprising a loss of one day a week or 20 percent of their income through the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.

While most DOD employees will be furloughed on Fridays, some will be off Mondays to ensure service needs are met.

It is unclear how many of the base’s 1,200 contractors are affected by the furloughs. However, contractors who require DOD employee supervision will also be furloughed.

“This is 20 percent less money flowing into the community,” Dutton said. “My wife and I are both DOD so it’s a double-whammy for us. We’re losing $1,600 gross per month.”

The civilian furloughs, or involuntary time off, are part of the country-wide governmental sequestration which includes cuts to various programs that are funded federally, including the DOD, public schools and housing, as well as some non-profits. Major programs such as Medicare, Social Security, federal pensions and veteran’s benefits are exempt.

“We haven’t had a budget in years and sequestration was supposed to be a motivational tool to create a budget,” Dutton said.

“Now it seems like they’re using it as a solution.”

Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde, DOD spokesperson for personnel and readiness, said last month that the current one-day-a-week furlough situation is “unprecedented.” The only previous furloughs occurred in 1995, first furloughing DOD civilians for a week, and then three weeks.

Ron Witherell, who stood with Dutton Friday in downtown Oak Harbor, has been a warehouse lead at the base HAZMAT center for six years and retired after 20 years in the Navy as a chief storekeeper.

“I’ve never seen congress so dysfunctional,” Witherell said. “This 11 weeks… I think it’s not gonna end there if we don’t make something of it. It’s gonna go past 11 weeks.”

Naval Ocean Processing Facility instructor Ty Welch said Friday morning that he had to leave the protest for a few hours to go fill out part-time job applications.

“I can’t afford the 20 percent pay cut,” Welch said. “They are wasting money on all these other projects while trying to balance the budget on our backs. I understand the federal government needs to balance the budget. But when you see them wasting money… it’s doesn’t go down well.”

The trio plan to protest every Friday during furloughs until they end.

“We’re small compared to some of the protests out there,” Dutton said.

“But maybe we’ll grow.”

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