Federal workers rally on overpass to highlight effects of sequestration

Staff writerMarch 21, 2013 

About 50 federal workers and their supporters stood waving signs and chanting slogans on a freeway overpass late Wednesday afternoon in protest against government sequester plans.

Organized by Local 1501 of the American Federation of Government Employees, the protesters stood along Bridgeport Way near the entrance to McChord Air Field as heavy rush-hour traffic passed beside and below.

Truckers blew their air horns and drivers waved as the group chanted, “Hey-hey, ho-ho, sequestration’s got to go.”

The Lakewood area protest was one of up to a hundred others nationwide as workers sought to make the public aware of the consequences of the coming government cutbacks. The proposal by the federal government to sequester funds will mean that some federal employees face furloughs causing a 20 percent reduction in pay.

“I’ll work 32 hours a week instead of 40,” said Dan Grey, a social worker at Madigan Army Medical Center.

“We’re seeing the military coming back from war, and they deserve full treatment,” he said. “Thirty-two hours instead of 40 means longer waits. It’s more about what it’s going to do to the service members. It’s the work that needs to be done, and that’s what I want our government to do.”

Michael Meserve, Western regional vice president of the government employees’ Council of Prisons, represents 28,000 corrections officers at prisons and detention centers in California, Arizona, Oregon, Hawaii and Washington.

“Now, with sequestration, we’ll be furloughed one day every pay period. That’s 40 to 50 employees a week,” he said. “The federal prison system is overcrowded. We have more inmates than we’ve ever had. If we have furloughs, it will make the prisons exponentially more dangerous.”

“There’s going to be a huge effect on families and the local economy,” said Michael Freeman, president of Local 498 of the AFGE.

Although exempt from furloughs as an employee at the VA Puget Sound American Lake Division in Lakewood, Freeman said he was at the demonstration Thursday to show “solidarity with my brothers and sisters.”

“This is an attack on federal workers,” he said. “We want to get more people aware, so they get the other side.”

Speaking before the one-hour protest began, AFGE Local 1501 President Sherrilla Bivens – who represents workers at McChord, Mountain Home and Fairchild Air Bases as well as rangers at Mount Rainier and workers at the Western Air Defense Sector – said the consequences of sequestration will fall beyond federal facilities.

“I’ll be losing $600 per pay period. I have some people who will be losing even more. We’ll also lose two pay periods of annual and sick leave. These cuts are to people who work every day,” said Bivens, a day care worker.

When people think about government workers, she said, “they think about people at a desk. They don’t think about the day care workers. They don’t think about the people working at Madigan, taking care of veterans. Our local has opened a food bank. I don’t want members to decide between food or medicine for their kids.”

Unless Congress acts, the reductions forced by sequestration will take effect next month and last at least through the end of the fiscal year in September.

“That’s a long time to exist by the skin of your teeth,” Bivens said. “Unless something is done, it’s a done deal. Sequestration does not work.”

C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535 c.r.roberts@ thenewstribune.com

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