Technicians at the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing said Monday that they were struggling to endure a pay cut resulting from sequestration, forcing some to consider seeking employment elsewhere.
A total of 220 technicians employed at the base at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton are required to take 11 unpaid furlough days between July 8 and September 30—accounting for 20 percent of their pay over that two-and-a-half-month period—as part of the federal budget cuts that took effect in March. The cuts will result in an estimated 5-percent reduction in pay across the board for most members of the outfit.
The 106th Rescue Wing deploys Air National Guardsmen worldwide to carry out personnel recovery and search-and-rescue missions, as well as combat support missions for military forces. The Air National Guard also responds to disasters in New York at the direction of Governor Andrew Cuomo.
A.J. Wineberger, a helicopter pilot, said during a press conference with U.S. Representative Tim Bishop held near the base on Monday that most of the furloughed technicians, including himself, are dual-status, meaning they are civilian employees but also serve as guardsmen. The majority were deployed overseas and returned home to the cut in salary, he said.
“They’re having a really difficult time, and I know all Americans are having a difficult time at this period,” Mr. Wineberger said. “But to have somebody deployed for four or five months at a time, and then come home and, within two months, be furloughed with a 20-percent pay cut, and have a hard time putting food on the table and putting clothes on their children—that’s a travesty in itself.”
Though Mr. Wineberger said his family is able to make ends meet because his wife also works, others are not so fortunate. The spouses of guardsmen are often unable to work full-time because they are left to raise their children while their husbands and wives are deployed, he explained. Sean Gavin, who is also a helicopter pilot, said other technicians have resorted to holding yard sales as a way to support their families.
Mr. Wineberger added that he is considering looking for employment elsewhere, albeit regretfully.
“My heart is in this place, and my heart is in this community,” he said, explaining that he has worked at the base since he was about 19 years old. “It’s about saving lives—that’s what everyone is committed to out at the base, saving lives so that others may live. That’s our motto, that’s our credo. It’s what we do. But when you can’t put food on the table and support the family, what are you going to do?”
Mr. Bishop called the furloughs “unconscionable.” He is the cosponsor of legislation, sponsored by U.S. Representative Steven Palazzo of Mississippi, that would exempt the dual-status technicians from the furloughs. Though the language of the bill was added as an amendment to a Department of Defense appropriations bill, which was approved by the House of Representatives, Mr. Bishop said he is hopeful that the legislation will be brought to the floor as a freestanding bill so that it will be subject to fewer revisions.
“They deserve from us what they are giving to us,” he said of the technicians. “That’s what we should be focusing on and, hopefully, we can get there.”
The congressman explained further that if the bill is not passed by October 1, the start of the new fiscal year, more furloughs—or even layoffs—could be a possibility. He said he would vote against the adjournment of Congress on Friday, August 2, in hopes of getting the bill passed.