(Corrects last word of 19th paragraph quote to "impacted" from
"shafted", corrects acronym to NFFE, and corrects spelling of
By Elvina Nawaguna
WASHINGTON, March 1 Labor unions are bargaining
with federal government agencies in an attempt to soften the
financial blow on federal employees as $85 billion in spending
cuts kick in.
Some agencies, such as Customs and Border Protection, the
Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency
have notified workers they may have to take several unpaid days
The Pentagon informed Congress that it planned to put most
of its civilian defense employees on unpaid leave for up to 22
days if lawmakers didn't act on time to prevent the automatic
Congress and President Barack Obama have so far failed to
reach a budget deal that would avert the sequester -
across-the-board federal spending cuts negotiated in a
deficit-reduction battle in 2011.
The sequester is due to start later on Friday.
A handful of unions for federal workers have been active in
recent days, negotiating with agencies to give their employees
flexibility with the furloughs.
They want employees to have the right to select which days
they take unpaid leave, a system in which volunteers can offer
to shoulder more of the burden and the ability to seek outside
employment, among other concessions.
The National Federation of Federal Employees, National
Treasury Employee Union and American Federation of Government
Employees say the furloughs will hurt workers' ability to pay
their bills, especially if taken over consecutive days.
The American Federation of Government Employees, which
represents about 600,000 workers, said it's talking with several
government agencies but hasn't reached any agreements yet.
"Our members are pretty angry," said David Borer, AFGE's
general counsel. "Furloughs are going to cost them something
like 20 percent of their pay over the next several months."
Members of the treasury employees union spent several days
this week in Washington pleading with lawmakers to prevent what
they said would cause them a lot of distress.
Philip Yamalis, an Internal Revenue Service tax specialist
from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was among those who lobbied
Congress. He has worked for the government for 22 years and says
he feels anxious about the future.
"When they say a sequester cuts across the board, they don't
realize the fear they place in an ordinary middle-class citizen
trying to do his job," he said.
While unions still hope that lawmakers will reach a budget
deal that will undo the sequester after the fact, they have
geared up to bargain to mitigate the effects.
NTEU spokeswoman Dina Long said the union plans to work with
the IRS to find other budget savings that could help avoid
In an internal IRS memo acquired by Reuters, the agency
informed employees that they would have to take five to seven
unpaid days off starting in the summer after the busy tax
season. Workers, the agency said, will take no more than one day
off per pay period.
Long said the NTEU wants the IRS to give employees the
option of swapping furlough days as well as allow employees the
right to voluntarily take on more unpaid days to relieve work
mates who might be in more dire financial situations. It also
wants the tax agency to allow furloughed employees to take
The National Federation of Federal Employees has also sent
its members bargaining guidelines.
"We're trying to make the best out of a bad situation," said
Philip Snodgrass, assistant general counsel at NFFE. "Employees
are probably frustrated and understandably so. Congress did this
and they (employees) are the ones getting impacted."
The union wants federal employers to provide more than the
required 30 days advance notice to furloughed employees. It
wants agencies to first solicit volunteers if not all employees
are required to take unpaid days off. The union also wants
employers to allow workers to request specific furlough days
The Office of Management and Budget this week instructed
agency heads to cooperate with the unions.
The best-case scenario, the union leaders said, would be if
Congress reach a budget deal in coming weeks before furloughs
"We can't negotiate that they don't do a furlough, but that
if they are going to do a furlough, we can negotiate how it will
be handled," AFGE's Borer said. "If the agency refuses to
negotiate with us, that would be an unfair labor practice and we
could file charges against them."
A federal union has the ability to file a complaint through
the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which would then
investigate the complaint.
(Reporting By Elvina Nawaguna, with additional reporting by
Anna Yukhananov and Patrick Temple-West; Editing by Karey
Wutkowski and Kenneth Barry)