Furloughed Beaufort base workers take protest to streets

emoody@beaufortgazette.comOctober 3, 2013 

Furloughed U.S. Department of Defense employees from Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort rallied Thursday outside Beaufort City Hall in an attempt to rouse support.

"I spent eight years in the Marine Corps, and they tell you, 'Fight for what you believe in,'" said Parris Island electrician Jonathan Fritz. "This is something I believe in."

Fritz is one of more than 1,500 Beaufort-area employees furloughed indefinitely Tuesday as part of the federal government shutdown. About 20 protested Tuesday, and more than a dozen protested Thursday.

"If debates need to happen, they don't need to happen at the risk of 800,000 people," he said.

Parris Island furloughed 291, and the air station 1,200, according to the bases' spokesmen.

The employees are still recovering from six days of furloughs from July to September, said American Federation of Government Employees union president Sue Partridge, and many work paycheck-to-paycheck for as little as $8 an hour.

"I'm pretty close to losing everything I've got," Partridge said.

She stood in line for two hours Wednesday to file for unemployment, a first for the 55-year-old Beaufort resident.

Union members urged passersby to call their representatives and senators.

"They're not feeling the effect," Partridge said of members of Congress. "We're feeling the effect."

First Congressional District Rep Mark Sanford, a Republican who represents part of Beaufort County, said no quick solution seems likely. Further, more intermittent shutdowns and budget bickering seem likely if Congress does not return to genuine budget debates and end its recent practice of funding with continuing resolutions, Sanford said Thursday in an interview with The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet.

"There has been an absolute breakdown to the budget process, and at the end of the day, until you get back on some semblance of order in regard to the budget, we're going to continue to flounder around and have problems," he said.

Sanford added that if this shutdown is like those that preceded it, those who lost paychecks to furloughs are likely to have their pay retroactively restored.

He said some of the closures, such as national memorials, are stunts "to supposedly gain political advantage and inflict maximum damage to people so that they will be ticked off and make more noise about reopening government."

Partridge said she's spoken with furloughed employees who are afraid to protest for fear of repercussion. Social pressures also play a role.

"People have pride," she said. "They don't want people to know they are hurting."

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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