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Fort Drum civilian worker union chief talks potential short-term budget deal

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FORT DRUM — More than two weeks into the government shutdown, the prospect of a temporary budget fix is less than appetizing for the head of the post’s largest civilian workers union.

“We’re worried,” said Jeffrey W. Zuhlke, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 400. “To add the uncertainty of these little stopgaps deals so we go back into crisis in a few weeks isn’t spectacular on our end.”

He said he had been keeping up with short updates through the day, as House and Senate leaders work on their own legislation to end the shutdown and avert the nation’s debt ceiling crisis.

“I hate to get my hopes up on anything,” Mr. Zuhlke said. “I’ve become a pessimist. I’m not sure how to look at it.”

Hundreds of workers on the post have been affected by furloughs since the shutdown started at the beginning of the month.

For now, the Pay Our Military Act, passed Sept. 30, appears to be allowing paychecks to return to normal for employees who were exempted from the furloughs, or those returning from furlough Oct. 7.

“It’s as if nothing happened,” Mr. Zuhlke said.

However, the approximately 575 workers, or 42.5 percent of the post’s civilian workforce, who faced four days of furloughs at the start of the month will need a separate act of Congress to be reimbursed for that missed pay.

“That week is still in limbo,” he said.

The shutdown-related unpaid days are in addition to six furlough days workers faced over the summer in connection with larger budget cuts prompted by sequestration.

More worrisome, Mr. Zuhlke said, is what lies ahead after a budget is passed. With the military forced to shed billions of dollars in the new fiscal year to keep up with the sequester requirements, he said, more furlough days and even layoffs could be possible.

“There’s been nothing stable for the past few years, and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

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