U.S. Custom and Border Protection sent out furlough notices to thousands of employees across the country, angering the heads of the law enforcement agency’s union.
CBP said they were forced to send out the furloughs because of governmental budget cuts from sequestration.
A notice sent to all of CBP’s 60,000 employees said the furloughs will begin on April 21 and continue through the end of the fiscal year in September – which could mean a 35 percent decline in wages for the rest of the fiscal year. CBP employees will be furloughed for no more than 14 days and part-time workers will have their furloughed time prorated.
“In order to address the more than half a billion in budget cuts imposed by sequestration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection must take significant budget reduction actions,” A CBP spokesperson said in a statement to Fox News Latino. “CBP will continue to make every effort to minimize the sequester’s impact on public safety and national security, but expects that planned furlough of employees, along with reductions to overtime and hiring freeze will increase wait times at ports of entry, including international arrivals at airports, and reduce staffing between land ports of entry.”
The move is part of across-the-board budget cuts that came about in the recent sequestration battle that came to a head on March 1, when President Barack Obama and congressional lawmakers failed to come to a deal that would prevent the sequester.
Sequestration is a cover-all term for a series of automatic, across-the-board budget cuts to government agencies, split evenly between defense and discretionary spending. The cuts will total $1.2 trillion over 10 years.
The sequester — which has been coming for more than a year — is an attempt to get a grapple on the U.S. national debt, which has ballooned to more than $16 trillion dollars.
The CBP cuts add to the economic woes of the agencies under the Department of Homeland. The DHS last week announced that it released 2,000 undocumented immigrants because of budget cuts and plans to release about 3,000 more this month.
"We are already seeing huge increases recently in illegal cross-border human and narcotics smuggling, and this is only going to exacerbate the situation," said Gabriel Martinez, the treasurer of National Border Patrol Council Local 2554 in El Centro, California.
Union bosses for the CBP and other government agencies voiced their anger at the furlough notices, calling them a “heavy toll” and claiming they will have “serious effects” on the running of the nation’s agencies.
“Just as ‘the hot sun’ is hardly the biggest risk Border Patrol agents take while performing their duties, the 10 percent pay cut to which the president referred is only a small portion of the economic pain the Department of Homeland Security has in store for them,” David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a statement. “Border Patrol agents are law enforcement professionals, and this policy will undermine their ability to carry out their mission to guard the border and protect American citizens.”
While the unions can't stop the furloughs, they can try to ease the pain for employees by negotiating different times, allowing employees to swap days, or other changes. Unions are also trying to persuade agencies to make other cuts that don't affect worker pay, such as cutting government contracts with private companies.
"In some cases, the agencies can figure out ways to slow down federal contracts instead of taking it out of federal personnel," said Patrick Lester, director of fiscal policy for the Center for Effective Government.
Besides the furloughs, the CBP will cut overtime hours – a move that angered the Border Patrol union where agents rely heavily on overtime pay.
"Overtime work is a necessity for enforcement due to the remote locations of Border Patrol stations (driving times) and the sheer amount of work to be done," Martinez said in an e-mail."Being restricted to an 8-hour shift means they'll barely have time to gather their equipment, drive to their assigned zone, and look around before they have to return to the station."