FORT HOOD — Federal employees donned neon green T-shirts and waved signs outside the entrance to Fort Hood on Wednesday in hopes of gaining the attention of lawmakers to stop a potential 20 percent pay cut they may receive next month through furloughs.
Because of sequestration and the continuing budget resolution, the Defense Department may have to furlough its roughly 800,000 civilian employees to make up for the loss of funds.
More than 50 employees stood near the Marvin Leath Visitor Control Center during their lunch hour shouting phrases such as “Say no to furloughs,” and “Don’t touch my dough,” as drivers in passing cars honked and waved.
“We want to send a message to Congress that they need to stop this sequestration. It makes no sense,” said Cheryl Eliano, president of the local chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents about 6,000 Fort Hood employees — all of whom could be furloughed two days per pay period beginning in April. That’s a 20 percent cut in salary.
Federal employees have already contributed $103 billion through Congress voting to cut their pay and deny raises, Eliano said.
“We can’t sacrifice any more. We need the rich and big corporations to do their part,” she said. “We can’t afford that.”
John Patrick, secretary-treasurer for the Texas branch of the AFL-CIO, an umbrella organization for unions, outlined three actions Congress should take, projecting his voice above the crowd with a megaphone: repeal, not replace sequestration, protect safety net programs and close tax loopholes.
“The three things above should be a priority, not sequestration,” Patrick said. “These cuts are already costing jobs and damaging the economy. ... It was Congress who created this mess and they have the authority to make it go away.”
U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, who was mentioned on many of the demonstrators’ signs, responded to the event via email and said the fault of sequestration lies with the Senate and the president. The House passed two bills to replace sequestration, “both of which have been blocked by the Democrat Senate and a threatened veto by (President Barack) Obama,” he said.
“These protesters should be calling the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to demand the Senate pass either of the House replacement bills,” Carter said. “As to these groups demanding Congress raise spending and taxes as a solution, they seem to have forgotten we’re in this mess because Obama and his Democrats raised spending and taxes to begin with.”
The Defense Department is expected to send notices for furloughs within weeks.
Picketer Carolyn Martinez, a secretary in the Fort Hood chaplain’s office and a 16-year government employee, is preparing for the worst. She suffers from multiple sclerosis and her husband also works for the government and faces potential furlough. The couple was to close on a house next month, but may have to rethink their options.
“I was hoping our lawmakers could compromise and think about the good of the people. Not a few of the people, but all, and come together for people like me,” she said. “Twenty percent may not seem like a lot, but for people working here, it’s a whole lot.”