“The work load is what the work load is,” Sullivan said on the broadcast. “It comes down to numbers, and the numbers are just not good for 2013.”
A release from the depot’s public affairs office later Wednesday said the base’s temporary and “term” workers are the ones facing potential unemployment. Temporary workers are hired for short-term periods based on the Army’s needs, usually for a year or less, according to Clester Burdell, an Army public affairs officer. Term workers are hired for between one and four years. Those contracts are renewable if there’s a need for the workers, Burdell said. She said there are slightly more than 500 term and temporary workers at the depot now.
Shrene Funderburg, acting president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1945, said she’d been told that 568 workers’ jobs are at stake. Funderburg said she was informed about the layoffs Tuesday afternoon in a meeting with Sullivan. Another 300 may lose their jobs by January 2013, she added.
The layoffs would begin after March 30, Burdell said, as each worker’s contract expires, continuing to the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30.
About 4,000 people work at the depot in permanent positions under a variety of commands, Burdell said. That includes workers who last September finished moving and destroying the Army’s stockpile of Cold War-era chemical weapons stored at the depot. That work force once totaled around 1,000, jobs that all will be gone when the Anniston Chemical Disposal Facility is dismantled.
For the temporary and term workers, what’s costing them their jobs is a transition to peacetime, Sullivan said on the morning broadcast. He declined to be interviewed later.
The problem was evident on a tour of one of the newer facilities at the depot Wednesday morning.
James McKinney is chief of the depot’s reciprocating power train division, which rebuilds engines for vehicles such as the Army personnel carrier used in Afghanistan. The division is operating at about 10 percent capacity, McKinney said. The 142,000-square-foot facility, which opened in July 2009, has the capacity to rebuild 1,865 engines in a year. For 2012, it received enough money to rebuild 40, McKinney said.
Row upon row of shelves installed to hold engine parts rose empty or nearly empty toward the warehouse ceiling. Unused machines lay silent among others that were running. It’s an inefficient use of a state-of-the-art building that cost taxpayers $85 million just a few years ago, said Ray VanSchoubroek, a consultant for the union and a retired crane operator for the depot.
Less work hinders the facility’s efficiency, McKinney confirmed.
“If we were at full capacity, it would start bringing costs down,” he said. “They have a process they have to go through, whether you put one part in or you put 30 parts in.”
Nathan Hill, military liaison for the Calhoun Chamber of Commerce, said the depot has been dealt double blows because of a decrease in work and a decrease in funding for man-hours.
The Anniston depot specializes in maintaining equipment such as tanks, self-propelled howitzers, mobile bridges, small arms and tank-recovery systems, Hill said.
“There has been a lot of work in those areas over the past 10 years,” he said. “But now, as we’ve moved out of Iraq, a lot of those systems or most of those systems aren’t being used in Afghanistan.”
VanSchoubroek said the depot has a core number of man-hours it needs to complete the work it has to do each year and to maintain the skill level it needs to stay in operation. Union officials estimate it needs 3.2 million man-hours to do that work. In 2013, though, the depot is in line to receive funding for 2.1 million man-hours, the officials said.
Hill acknowledged the wide gulf between what the depot says it needs and what it is slated to receive, but noted that the allotted hours change almost on a daily basis. He said the decrease in workload at the depot has probably affected the funding it is slated to receive in 2013.
VanSchoubroek said the union had expected a drawdown as the nation’s armed forces disengage from Iraq and Afghanistan, but it had not expected such deep cuts.
Funderburg, the union president, said the union had hoped 450 employees from the chemical weapons disposal plant and stockpiling area would be added to the depot’s payroll. Since 2010, the depot has cut 632 positions through early retirements and other incentives — the right way, Funderburg said.
Now, instead of preventing layoffs, the depot will be adding to them.
The problem is lack of funding, Funderburg said.
“We don’t have the work here at Anniston to maintain them,” she said. “They’re canceling programs that they had originally said we’d be doing.”
That’s not true of other depots across the country, she said. The Red River Depot in Texas has asked 300 Anniston employees to volunteer to work there. So far, about 60 employees have taken the Texas depot up on its offer.
Hill also noted the discrepancy between depots, but said it is driven by the requirements of the military. The Red River Depot maintains tactical-wheeled vehicles such as Humvees, which are currently being used in Afghanistan more than the heavy equipment of Anniston’s specialties, and therefore require more maintenance.
“It doesn’t appear fair from a union standpoint or from my standpoint,” Hill said. “But it’s just a matter of fact that it’s related to the commodities that those depots have been designated to repair.”
Anniston Mayor Gene Robinson said Wednesday afternoon he had only just heard of the layoffs, but he noted it’s a cycle that has repeated itself each time the country has entered and exited a war.
“When there’s a war, there’s ramping up; there’s big hires and lots of activity,” he said. “Then when the wars are over, there’s a ramping down.”
Robinson wasn’t sure how the city would respond to the impending layoffs, but like the April 27 tornadoes, it will require community support to pull through this, he said.
Star staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545.