Most Maine National Guard employees, Portsmouth shipyard workers back at work Monday

Posted Oct. 07, 2013, at 12:48 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 07, 2013, at 6:18 p.m.

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Maj. Michael Steinbuchel, Maine Army National Guard
Maine Army National Guard
Maj. Michael Steinbuchel, Maine Army National Guard

BANGOR, Maine — Most of the 406 Maine Army and Air National Guard employees and 1,500 workers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery furloughed last Tuesday when the federal government shut down returned to work Monday, officials said.

Maj. Michael Steinbuchel, public affairs officer for both branches of the Maine National Guard, said employees learned they would return to work over the weekend.

“A majority were contacted by their superiors [Sunday] and reported to work on Monday,” Steinbuchel said of the furloughed federal civilian technicians.

Only 16 have not been recalled, Steinbuchel said. They work in auditing and publication, he said.

“While this is good news, it still does not fix the whole problem,” Steinbuchel said, referring to the shutdown.

The partial recall was announced Saturday by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel who said the Pentagon would be bringing back many of its roughly 400,000 civilian employees sent home last week when Congress failed to pass a budget.

Hagel said a legal review of the Pay Our Military Act, signed by President Barack Obama on the eve of the shutdown, would allow him to bring a still-unspecified number of civilians back to work.

“I expect us to be able to significantly reduce — but not eliminate — civilian furloughs under this process,” Hagel said.

Hagel’s order also means that “all the furloughed workers from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard are back on the job as of today,” U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said in an email statement.

“Approximately 1,500 people came back to work today,” Danna Eddy, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard spokeswoman, said Monday.

Dedham resident Christien Dearborn, a full-time aircraft mechanic with the 101st Air Refueling Wing based in Bangor, is one National Guard employee who returned to work on Monday. He said last week that he and his co-workers were frustrated with Congress.

The shutdown also forced the cancellation of the scheduled Oct. 5-6 weekend drills for both the Maine Army and Air National Guard, and Steinbuchel said Monday there is no money for training.

“The traditional Guardsmen are still not able to train,” Steinbuchel said. “In addition to that, there is no operations and maintenance funds.”

There is funding for fuel and other essential items, but no funds are available for supplies and nonessential items, he said.

“What we have on the shelves — when it’s gone, it’s gone,” Steinbuchel said.

The employees who returned to work Monday will be issued midmonth paychecks for any time worked, but still at issue is whether they will be paid for their lost time.

“We will be paid,” Steinbuchel said. “We don’t anticipate any interruption [in the bimonthly pay schedule].”

That said, he added, “guidance is literally changing hourly.”

The Republican-led House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill Saturday that would retroactively pay 800,000 furloughed workers once the government shutdown ends. The bill has yet to go before the Democrat-led Senate for concurrence.

The White House has said that President Barack Obama will sign the bill into law. There is no end in sight to the shutdown, and there are still no bipartisan negotiations.

Steinbuchel said last week that the last time the Maine Guard was furloughed, they were issued retroactive pay.

“For this round, we’re still working through some of that guidance,” he said Monday.

It was announced late last week that another 44 Department of Defense, veterans and emergency management state employees paid by the federal government would be sent home.

“The 44 state employees are still furloughed,” Steinbuchel said.

Lt. Col. Deborah Kelley, spokeswoman for the 101st who was one of those furloughed, said only one of the 16 Maine Guard members not recalled is from the Air Guard.

She also wanted to let Guard members, their families and military retirees know that the base commissary in Bangor will reopen Tuesday.

Maine Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins released a joint statement Monday reacting to news of the recall.

“We are certainly pleased that the dedicated members of the Maine National Guard and civilian federal employees at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and at Bath Iron Works are returning to work, but remain frustrated that they were ever furloughed in the first place. The ‘Pay Our Military Act’ is now being implemented as Congress intended and as we clarified in our letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel,” Collins and King said in a joint statement. “We will continue to closely examine how the Pentagon administers this law, especially as it relates to other defense installations in our state.”

Reuters contributed to this article.

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