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Fort Drum civilian workers hit with furloughs, again

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Fort Drum is among the many arms of the federal government dealing with furloughs as a result of the government shutdown. Workers deemed non-essential were sent home midday yesterday.

A division spokeswoman said the timing is bad for the post, because because it comes on top of a nearly two-year hiring freeze that has many departments already down to bare bones staffing. And this is a busy time for Fort Drum, with multiple units preparing for imminent deployments, and others returning and going through reintegration.

Loren Zeilnhofer is an officer with the American Federation of Government Employees Local 400. He says the union represents about 1,200 Fort Drum workers, and about 400 of those have been sent home. With the shutdown coming after six days of furloughs earlier this year as a result of the federal budget sequester, Zeilnhofer says many of his union's members are feeling demoralized.

"It's a general feeling of disgust," Zeilnhofer said. "Nobody likes that this is happening, especially because it is avoidable. This did not have to happen. So morale is really bad, to put it mildly."

Zeilnhofer says it's unfair Congress is using federal employees in what he called “a game of chicken” over the budget and health care reform, and that many workers feel like they've had a rug yanked out from under them.

"Then, there you are; you've got your mortgage, you've got your car bills, you've got your childcare bills, you've got your groceries to buy," Zeilnhofer said. "And so for some people at the lower spectrum, that can really do some damage for them."

Because Fort Drum is made up of a handful of separate commands, each with different guidelines they must follow, it's unclear exactly how many workers at the post are affected by the shutdown. Families of soldiers and civilian workers received a letter from Fort Drum's commander, assuring them that critical services affecting health, safety and the essential military mission will continue despite the furloughs.