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Fort Drum employees will receive back pay for furloughed week

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FORT DRUM — Hundreds of furloughed civilian workers on post will be reimbursed for the pay they lost the first week of October, a result of the combined budget and debt ceiling deal approved Wednesday night.

“That’s definitely a big difference,” said Jeffrey W. Zuhlke, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 400 on post.

Reimbursement for workers who had been exempted from the furloughs, who essentially worked for a week for IOUs, was approved just before the shutdown with the Pay Our Military Act. However, the pay for hundreds of furloughed workers, equaling about 42 percent of the post’s civilian workforce, was contingent on a separate act of Congress.

Mr. Zuhlke said the back pay would be reflected on the furloughed workers’ next paychecks, which may not be for another two weeks.

Despite the enthusiasm for the passage of the budget, Mr. Zuhlke said more concerns remain with the possibility of more protracted debate about a longer-term deal that should be discussed early next year.

He said that uncertainty will be seen in many ways, from how people balance their budget to their spending for the holidays.

“People aren’t going to be shelling out money when they don’t know what’s around the corner,” Mr. Zuhlke said.

Kathryn M. Reed, who works at the post’s Material Maintenance Division, said the uncertainty about paychecks for the past two weeks has led her to juggle her bills temporarily. For now, her car insurance will be paid, and her mortgage payment will be delayed.

She said she has been helped temporarily with things like groceries and gas money by other members of her family.

“I don’t know what I’d do without them,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to go to work.”

When she gets her back pay in two weeks, Ms. Reed said her first priority will be paying her bills.

She said the end of the shutdown was a relief, but also brought frustration.

“They haven’t resolved it yet,” Ms. Reed said. “What happens in January?”

About 400,000 civilian workers nationwide were furloughed as a result of a government shutdown.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said during a news conference Thursday morning that he was worried that the furloughs would negatively affect the morale of workers.

“People have to have some confidence that they have a job that they can rely on,” Mr. Hagel said. “I know there are no guarantees in life, but we can’t continue to do this to our people, having them live under this cloud of uncertainty.”

Robert F. Hale, Defense Department comptroller, estimated the furloughs cost the department at least $600 million in productivity, along with other costs that could not be immediately quantified.

Mr. Hagel said the uncertainty about the civilian roles also could make it tougher to recruit qualified applicants, who often field multiple offers for their services.

“Good people will leave the government,” Mr. Hagel said. “They are not going to put up with this.”

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