By Carra Higgins
Some area federal employees tried to raise public awareness Wednesday about the effects of the sequestration and furlough days.
Between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Beckley’s Jim Word Memorial Park, supporters and employees held up signs and spread the word for residents to tell their elected representatives in Washington, D.C., that sequestration will negatively affect local communities as a whole.
Jill Carver, president of American Federation of Government Employees Council of Prison Locals union of Beckley, explained that the federal prison inmate population is not decreasing; therefore, furlough days for those employees put the staff at risk as well as community safety.
She recalled that the furlough days that occurred in 1995 for federal employees did not apply to prison staffs because they were considered “essential.” Now, however, prison employees will not be allowed to work on their furlough days, even if there is a shortage of staff members, she added.
“We are stunned,” Carver commented.
In literature distributed at the protest, the union paraphrases United States Attorney General Eric Holder, who said the cuts would not only endanger correctional employees and inmates, but also increase the likelihood of inmate violence, which could endanger communities and lead to higher costs to taxpayers.
Charlie Yates, president of American Federation of Government Employees Council of Prison Locals union of McDowell, represents 252 bargaining unit employees who work at the federal prison in Welch. Yates said safety is the utmost concern; however, there are also financial and economic effects related to the sequestration and furloughs to consider. He provided information that says last year’s total payroll for around 302 employees at the McDowell correctional facility was approximately $27 million. If the furloughs of just those employees take effect around $1.5 million will not be paid and will be gone from the local economy, Yates explained.
The federal correctional facility at Beckley employs even more people and when other federal offices, such as the Internal Revenue Service, Mining Safety and Health Administration and the park service also furlough workers, the effect on the local community will be “huge,” Yates says.
Carver added, “The public hasn’t felt the impact yet; and, there’s not a lot that can be done in the middle of it.”
Yates said that it’s estimated that the economic effects of the furloughs and sequestration will be noticeable by the middle of June.
Also showing support at the protest Tuesday were staff members of the IRS and Veteran’s Administration and members of the Untied Mine Workers Association. Carver said staff members from the offices of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd District, stopped at the protest.
Gary Zuckett, executive director of West Virginia Citizen Action Group, attended to back those against the sequestration and furloughs. Zuckett and Yates provided data that says millions in funding will be cut from West Virginia alone. For example, a $3.6 million reduction for funding for children with disabilities and a $160,000 reduction in funding for nutrition programs for impoverished and homebound seniors. A complete list of immediate cuts for West Virginia can be found at http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/sequester-factsheets/west.virginia.pdf.