Federal workers return to local posts
by Daniel Gaddy
Oct 17, 2013 | 4283 views |  0 comments | 185 185 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Workers leave out of the CDP at McClellan at quitting time. Photo by Stephen Gross.
Workers leave out of the CDP at McClellan at quitting time. Photo by Stephen Gross.
At least 100 federal workers at the Center for Domestic Preparedness, the local agency most affected by the 16-day government shutdown, returned to their jobs today.

Lisa Hunter, director of external affairs at the center, said the rest of its approximately 800 workers are employees of contractors, and CDP administrators were sorting out how to get them back to work today.

They were among the roughly 800,000 federal workers nationwide sent home at the height of the shutdown, which ended when President Barack Obama signed a deal pushed through Congress on Wednesday, just ahead of a deadline to raise the government’s borrowing limit before threatening the ability to pay its bills.

The CDP in Anniston, at the former Fort McClellan, provides disaster preparedness training courses to first-responders from agencies around the country — courses that were cancelled throughout the government shutdown.

Hunter said training sessions will start back by Oct. 28, with a full schedule expected by Nov. 4.

Hunter described the return to work as similar to the first day of school.

“It’s a close-knit team, and a lot of us kept in touch while we were off,” she said.

Hunter said that though there was a sense of uncertainty among the workers, many of them worked at other agencies during a shutdown in the mid-1990s, and the team had faith that their elected leaders would do the right thing.

Jennifer Rochester, a cashier at Cafe McClellan at the McClellan Park Medical Mall, said today she had noticed a definite uptick in business.

She said nearly half of its customer base was affected by the shutdown, and the cafe saw about a 40 percent reduction in sales.

Rochester said the business has a large group of customers from the Medical Mall and from Gadsden State Community College, but more than half of its clientele work for the federal government.

Federal workers at the Anniston Army Depot were exempt from furloughs due to the government shutdown. According to depot spokeswoman Clester Burdell, all of the facility's nearly 3,000 workers are paid through the Army's working capital fund, which has money already allocated through 2014.

The depot’s two major tenants, Defense Distribution Depot-Anniston and Anniston Munitions Center, also were unaffected by the shutdown.

Mike Abrams, public affairs officer for the depot’s chemical weapons incinerator, said the effect on his group was small in comparison to other agencies.

He said fewer than 13 of the facility’s 219 workers were affected by the shutdown, and they were only furloughed for three and a half work days.

Abrams said that while workers at the incinerator were frustrated by the uncertainty and the powerlessness they felt, they continue to focus on their mission.

“While pay is important, we are a small group of dedicated individuals,” he said.

Asked if the staff worries about another shutdown crises coming once Congress’ deal ends in January, Abrams said, “We’ve got too many things to worry about at work to think about speculation on the future.”

Shrene Funderburg, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1945, the union that represents depot workers, said that though most depot workers were not directly affected by the shutdown, the depot cannot plan work properly when there’s such uncertainty with the leadership of the federal government.

Funderburg was in Washington D.C. to lobby Alabama’s federal representatives when Congress reached the deal.

Both Alabama senators — Republicans Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby — voted against the compromise, and only two House representatives — Democrat Terri Sewell and Republican Spencer Bachus — voted in favor of the deal.

Funderburg said she can’t understand why Alabama’s leaders would vote against such a measure when so many of their constituents’ livelihoods are connected with the federal government.

“It just doesn’t make any sense for them to try to hold the government hostage,” she said. “Alabama has so many people on the social programs that they cut so drastically. I’m just so disappointed in them.”

Assistant Metro Editor Daniel Gaddy: 256-235-3560. On Twitter @DGaddy_Star.

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