Furloughs starting at Yokota AB in July
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Yokota Air Base is squeezing every place it can to save money due to government-mandated budget cuts: Security forces are parking their patrol cars to save gas, and rest rooms are being left without paper towels.
And things are about to get worse.
374th Airlift Wing commander Col. Mark August told about 100 civilian workers in the base’s movie theater Thursday that they would start having furloughs from next month until late September.
They will be allowed to work only 64 hours every two weeks and won’t be eligible for overtime or compensatory time. The reduced hours are mandated by law with little room for flexibility; only a few personnel with mission-critical jobs, such as firefighters and some security forces, are eligible for exemptions, August said.
“Folks sitting in the fire department making sure we have 24-7 fire protection — there are some who are going to get paid overtime,” he said.
When he last met with workers to talk about furloughs, in February, August said he would ask politicians in Washington to solve the problem. He never got a chance.
“My trip to Washington was canceled due to sequestration,” he said.
However, August said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s top priority is finding budget funds to end the furloughs.
“We have a legal requirement to execute right now,” he said. “But I can promise you that all the senior leaders – we are trying to find a way. I need you guys to work.”
Furloughs and cuts to the wing’s budget — down 47 percent — mean it’s impossible to carry out its full mission in Japan, August said.
“There are some things I’m just not going to be able to do,” he said. “Things are not going to be running at 100 percent, but this is what we have to do to work it.”
August said he had not heard about possible layoffs at Yokota, adding that he doubted there would be a furlough next fiscal year — even though more budget cuts are expected.
“Next year we are assuming that … we will have more capability to absorb cuts in the big Air Force budget,” he said. “We are not going to see another furlough again if we have the authority to avoid it.”
One of the employees facing furlough — Mike Sears, a logistics manager — asked how the base would cope if it gets hit by a big emergency, like a typhoon, and needs people to work. August said officials would have to work out the best way to allocate people’s maximum work hours.