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Defense Contractor Lays Off One-Third Of Its Joint Base Lewis-McChord Staff

KUOW Photo/Patricia Murphy

Last week the Department of Defense delayed anticipated furlough notices for civilian employees. The DOD said the two-week delay would allow it to analyze the impact of the federal budget sequester on its workforce.

But not everyone got a reprieve.

Defense contractor Defense Support Services LLC of New Jersey employed 330 helicopter maintenance workers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Last week the company laid off more than one-third of them.

Jimmy Martin feels lucky that he had the option to stay at Defense Support Services with a $2-per-hour pay cut and a demotion. Others who were spared took more of a cut than he did, and Martin said they were grateful, too. “We’re just happy to be here," he said. "It hurts to take the pay cut. But if it keeps me in the job, I’m going to do what I’ve got to do.”

He said talk of the sequester had been making people anxious for months. Many employees, including him, had been trying to brace themselves financially. "There were people trying to work every single day, every hour they could," he said. "We knew a cut was coming but we didn’t know how deep. I know I spent the last month doing sixty-, seventy-hour weeks."

Electrician Elizabeth Sowersby was not as lucky. She and others were laid off during what she describes as an emotional meeting called by one of her managers. “He was trying to call all the names off and give congratulations to all the people who’d worked with the company," Sowersby said. "But he was getting so choked up and teary eyed that other people had to step in for him."

Sowersby returned to work briefly Monday because, in all the flurry on Friday, she had forgotten her lunch pail. 

After catching up with people still on the job, she remarked on how few of them were there. She noted that a lot of them were working unfamiliar jobs because layoffs had been done by seniority, not by job description.

Sowersby said she and her husband will be able to stretch financially for now. They have a family living with them, which helps with the expenses. She knows of others who are much worse off.

She said on the bright side, Defense Support Services told her she could be called back to work in two weeks. But she finds the notion less than reassuring because she doesn’t have much seniority. “If I do get hired, I’ll be excited doing my job," she said. "But at the same time, I’m always going to be thinking that I could leave at any moment."