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If the sequester goes into effect on March 1, furloughs could start hitting federal workers in April. That wouldn't just mean a hit to the paychecks of nearly two million workers, it could also mean vital services like meat inspection being short-staffed. Approximately 800,000 civilian staffers at the defense department (44 percent of them veterans) could be hit with a 20 percent pay cut due to furloughs, while:
... 15,000 air traffic controllers would be laid off for more than two weeks. There would be the equivalent of 5,000 fewer border patrol agents and 1,000 fewer FBI agents, according to the secretaries of Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, and Education.
Unions that represent federal workers will be able to bargain over things like how furlough days are scheduled, but they won't be able to influence the math of how many workers need to be furloughed for how many days. Neither will the meat industry, which is up in arms about furloughs affecting the number of meat inspections that can be carried out, forcing slowdowns in production. The president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said in a statement that "we are certain the USDA contains other 'non-essential' employees" who could and should be furloughed in place of inspectors. But while the meat industry appears to be taking the view that the allocation of furloughs is the problem and that as such, the Obama administration is responsible for production being slowed because of a lack of inspectors, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack pointed the finger back at Congress in a letter to the American Meat Institute:
Unfortunately, unless Congress acts to prevent sequestration, [Food Safety and Inspection Service] will have no choice but to furlough its employees in order to stay within the budget Congress has given it. [...]

Because we understand that furloughing our food safety inspectors would not be good for consumers, the economy, the meat and poultry industry, or our workforce, we view such furloughs as the last option we would implement to achieve the necessary sequestration cut. However, were sequestration to become a reality, it simply would not be possible for FSIS to achieve the requisite level of savings by furloughing non-front line staff alone as your letter suggests.

Not cutting the paychecks of nearly two million workers should be reason enough for Congress to act on the sequester. But if that's not enough, will the threat of meat shortages spur them on?

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 10:55 AM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions, Hunger in America, and Daily Kos.

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