An Air Force mechanic inspects the wings of a B-52 bomber. American Federation of Government Employees Local 916 wants its 13,000 civilian employees at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma to be deemed essential and exempt from any potential furloughs from a government shutdown. (Paul J. Richards / AFP via Getty Images)
The union local representing federal employees at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma on Wednesday demanded to bargain with managers over any potential furloughs resulting from a government shutdown.
American Federation of Government Employees Local 916 said it wants all 13,000 civilian employees at Tinker to be deemed essential and exempted from any shutdown. The union also wants Congress to set aside money so essential employees who keep working during a shutdown are paid on schedule.
James Schmidt, president of Local 916, said that about 9,000 mechanics, pipe fitters and other wage grade employees kept maintaining airplanes and buildings during the last shutdowns in 1995 and 1996. Those employees were not paid until after the budget dispute had been resolved. If a shutdown happens again, Schmidt doesn't want essential employees to have to wait for their pay.
Schmidt said Tinker's General Schedule employees were furloughed during the last shutdowns.
In a statement Wednesday, Local 916 Legislative Director Bryan Jackson cited the Office of Management and Budget's definition of essential employees as those who provide for national security and protect the safety of life or property. Local 916's letter to Tinker managers asks for a listing of all positions deemed essential.
"I think it is safe to say that the employees at Tinker fall under the OMB definition" of essential, Jackson said. "The difference between the government shutdown of 1995/1996 and now is that our country is fighting in two wars. The mission for all Tinker employees is to maintain warfighter readiness. We cannot let a funding issue jeopardize the safety of the men and women overseas."
Schmidt said his local hasn't heard anything official from Air Force managers about how a shutdown might be implemented. But he said that his sources in Congress told the local large parts of the Defense Department work force may remain on the job and not be furloughed during a shutdown.
"We've had some congressional aides, and people we talked to, that said it may not affect DoD," Schmidt said. "But there's no guarantee."
Tinker is home to the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center, 76th Maintenance Wing, 72nd Air Base Wing, and 507th Air Refueling Wing.