By James Beaty
Contracts for nearly 200 “term employees” at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant were set to expire today.
Since McAAP traditionally has a four-day work week, the last day at work for many of them came Thursday.
While the end of their contracts were no doubt devastating to the affected workers and their families, some employees received new contracts and there were also some new hires at the base, resulting in a total reduction of 66 positions, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Army’s Joint Munitions Command, the higher headquarters for McAAP.
Steve Abney, public information officer for the Joint Munitions Command in Rock Island, Ill., said there are approximately 1,700 workers on the McAAP grounds.
Of those, some 1,397 work for McAAP, he said. Others work for the Defense Ammunition Center or other entities, he said.
Workers designated as “term employees” at McAAP were hired and contracted to work for a term, or appointment, of at least a year and a day and for no more than four years, Abney said.
“There were 197 appointments scheduled to expire at the end of March,” Abney said. Today is the last day of March.
Based on the workload, McAAP was able to offer 109 new appointments, he said. That left 88 still losing their jobs.
Also, McAAP was able to offer 22 “new appointments”
for new hires who have not previously worked at the base, Abney said.
When the 109 term employees who were offered new contracts and the 22 new employees are factored in, McAAP is seeing “a net reduction of 66,” he said.
Abney said the employees who lost their jobs came from a variety of places at McAAP. He said the jobs which ended “were mostly blue color-type jobs.”
Are any more term workers expected to lose their jobs during the remainder of the current federal fiscal year, which expires Sept. 30?
“There are 19 more appointments scheduled to expire, mostly in September,” Abney said.
Regarding the 22 new hires, the News-Capital asked why the terms of more employees whose contracts had ended weren’t extended, as opposed to hiring new individuals.
“We have rules we have to follow and veteran status comes into play,” Abney said. For example, a veteran would be given preference over a civilian with no military experience.
Abney linked the job loss to the winding down of the war in Afghanistan, as opposed to the recent cost-cutting sequestration measures enacted by Congress.
“Our workload is going down because of the war winding down,” Abney said.
The loss of the jobs does not address the pending furloughs of Department of Defense employees, which have been linked to the sequestration measure — required to cut the federal budget by $85 billion by the end of the current fiscal year and $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years.
While initial reports said Department of Defense civilian employees would face 22 furlough days, the Associated Press is reporting that number has now been reduced to 14.
Currently, the furloughs are on hold while the Pentagon works out the details.
Abney noted the defense bill recently passed in Congress has the effect of letting the Department of Defense decided where to make spending reductions, as opposed to the across-the-board cuts originally mandated by the sequestration measure.
Whether it comes as a result of the winding down of the war in Afghanistan or as a result of sequestration, McAlester Mayor Steve Harrison noted a loss of jobs will still be in effect at McAAP.
“There’s no question employee levels are down,” he said.
Employment levels at McAAP have an effect on the local and area economy, Harrison added.
“This is one of the major drivers behind the steps we had to take to reduce costs,” Harrison said, referring to cost-cutting measures enacted by the city
Through a series of cost-cutting measures, including the lay-off of seven city employees, City Manager Pete Stasiak and his staff have reduced expenses to overcome more than a $1 million deficit in the city’s revenues projected through the end of the city’s fiscal year, which ends June 30.
“They’ve done yeoman’s work in keeping the budget balanced,” Harrison said, acknowledging the matter could change depending on the economy.
“That’s predicated on the situation not getting worse,” Harrison said.
Stasiak’s projections are based on the city’s sales tax revenue coming in at 16 percent below what had originally been budgeted for the next three months remaining in the city’s fiscal year.
Harrison and other city officials are hoping it doesn’t get any worse.
“One would hope that’s where it stays,” Harrison said.
Stasiak also reacted to the loss of jobs at McAAP.
“First and foremost, my heart goes out to these employees and their families for not having their jobs,” he said.
Stasiak is well aware the loss of those jobs can have a significant effect on the amount of city sales tax collections going into the city’s general fund.
“We’ll be watching to see the effect on sales tax because of the reduced income in the city,” Stasiak said.
Meanwhile, Harrison said he’s glad to at least see the number of planned furloughs drop from 22 days to 14 days.
“The 14 is not as bad as the 22,” he said.
Harrison’s also hopeful that allowing the Department of Defense more flexibility will also be beneficial to McAAP.
“I’m glad the folks in Washington gave them more flexibility to find the savings,” he said, referring to the required budget cuts.
Contact James Beaty at email@example.com.