The commander of Madigan Army Medical Center says some of his medical staff has already started turning in their resignation rather than face the furloughs that will equate to a 20 percent cut in their pay. (AP Photo/File)

Furloughs begin at JBLM, many see 20 percent cut in pay

Imagine if your entire city shut down for one day every week. Not just city hall, but grocery stores, gas stations and even medical clinics. That's what's about to happen at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

JBLM is over 90,000 acres along the I-5 corridor that includes 5,000 homes, two libraries, two grocery stores, six elementary schools, and a major hospital.

From now through September, more than 10,000 civilian employees at JBLM will have to stay home every Friday. Base Commander Colonel Charles Hodges says that means clinics will close and offices will be locked up.

"Without our civilians, we could not run or maintain the seventh largest city in Washington and support our service members, their families, our military retirees and our wounded warriors the way they deserve to be supported," says Colonel Hodges.

It's not a paid day off, but effectively, a 20 percent cut in salary. Civilian workers at JBLM make anywhere from $21,000 to $155,000 per year. So, for the lowest paid workers, their pay checks will drop to the equivalent of $17,000. The highest paid workers will lose the equivalent of $31,000.

That will have a ripple effect throughout the surrounding community.

"When you reduce the buying power of over 10,000 people, their ability to shop in local stores, and eat at local restaurants will be impacted," says Colonel Hodges. "Consider if we asked Microsoft to furlough 25 percent of their workforce in the state of Washington and the impact that would have."

The cuts will also have an impact on the readiness of our military members, according to Colonel Jeff Philippart, Vice Wing Commander of 62nd Airlift Wing. Many of those training the military pilots are civilian employees.

"In aviation, flying proficiency requires more than the bare minimum number of flight hours and those skills have a relatively short shelf life," says Colonel Philippart.

Hundreds of jet and helicopter mechanics are also civilian employees. A total of 580 civilian Air Force workers at McChord Field are being furloughed.

The place where the furloughs will probably hit the hardest are at Madigan Army Medical Center. Commander Colonel Dallas Homas says they've already had to pinch pennies in recent years. An ongoing hiring freeze has led to hundreds of vacancies.

"Those who remain are currently running double time to try and cover those gaps," says Colonel Homas.

They are trying to fill some of the new gaps with military members who are not under the furlough order, but it is often difficult to find military personnel with the exact skill set needed.

The base has been given approval to make exemptions for 661 civilians working in vital roles such as those in the emergency room and at fire stations.

Unfortunately, Colonel Homas says he has already started to see some civilian medical staff hand in their resignation rather than try to deal with a 20 percent cut in pay.

Kim Shepard, KIRO Radio Reporter
Kim Shepard is a news anchor and reporter for KIRO Radio and the office optimist. She's energetic, quick to laugh and has a positive outlook on life.
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