JBLM workers brace for heavy sequestration cuts

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. -- Thousands of civilian workers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord could be in for a very rough summer if sequestration cuts scheduled for next month are imposed.

The cuts, which are mandated by congress to help get the budget in line, would mean unpaid leave or furloughs for thousands of local families.

The fire department at JBLM is bracing for the worst, and could soon face one day of lost pay each week.

"It's definitely a safety issue with reducing the staff of the firefighters. We won't be able to make responses like we normally do," said Scot Powers, the firefighter's union representative.

That's just one of the areas getting ready to feel the pinch. In all, 10,000 civilian employees just got notice from joint base commander Col. H. Charles Hodges.

Hodges said those affected will be given Fridays off without pay. The move will put a real strain on many families. And it's not just the Army and Air Force, either. More than 5,000 civilian Navy employees will be hit.

Jennifer Thompson's husband works at the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station and said she has taken on extra hours of work to make up for the loss. She said other families in the same position are really hurting.

"It's going to be really a struggle for them because they're already living just day to day," she said.

Where possible, the military will bring in active duty workers to take the place of the furloughed civilians, like those working the security gates.

Madigan Army Medical Center commander Col. Dallas Homas said you can't simply bring in soldiers and give them the years of training needed for skilled medical work. But he knows he will have to make do with what he has.

"We will not allow cuts to ever compromise the safety of the care we currently provide our beneficiaries," Homas said.

Even though much of the base will shut down on Fridays, places like the emergency room will remain open.

It's predicted that $50 million in salaries will be lost unless Congress acts to avoid it. If not, the sequestration starts the week of July 8.