Union urges border agents to speak up on furlough

2013-03-14T00:00:00Z Union urges border agents to speak up on furloughPerla Trevizo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 14, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Border Patrol union leaders worry about major cuts in overtime pay and hours agents face as well as security because of cuts required by the federal furlough.

Since last Thursday, Custom and Border Protection employees were told they will have to take up to 14 days without pay as a result of sequestration.

"Every single agent should voice their opinion," said Art Del Cueto, Local 2544 president.

"How it has worked in the past with higher-ups is that they always end up with the excuse that they offered us an opportunity (to speak), and we didn't take advantage of it," he said.

It's important to have something on the record saying how many agents were impacted and how, he said.

CBP, which oversees Border Patrol agents and officers at the ports of entry, will have to cut $754 million this fiscal year as a result of the forced federal budget cuts that went into effect on March 1.

About 6,500 CBP employees in Arizona - out of about 60,000 nationwide - will be affected by sequestration furloughs, a CBP official wrote in an email.

"CBP is focusing its remaining resources on its core mission areas, operating in the way that is least disruptive to the facilitation of lawful travel and trade and our employees, while not compromising our security mission," it said.

Because the length of the sequestration is unknown, it's hard to project the impact of the reductions.

From an economic standpoint, sequestration is not "really a big deal," said Marshall Vest, an economist at the University of Arizona.

Without crunching the numbers on employees facing furloughs, "my impression is that the sequester is something the economy is going to be able to deal with OK," he said.

"The amount of spending will be lower than it would be, but the economy is strong enough and is growing fast enough that it will be able to absorb the cuts from the sequester," Vest said.

But it doesn't mean it can't be tough for families.

Of the $285 million CBP has to cut, $245 million comes from the Border Patrol.

Cutting overtime is reducing an agent's salary by about 25 percent, Del Cueto said.

The cuts also affect the entire Border Patrol mission, he said.

"We want to secure the border and enforce laws, but another strong point that hasn't been made is that at times we apprehend groups of children and women who need medical attention," he said.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano testified before the Senate Committee on Appropriations that in fiscal year 2013, the department would be expected to absorb about $4 billion of $85 billion in sequestration cuts to the federal government.

Beginning April 1, CBP will have to reduce its work hours by the equivalent of more than 5,000 Border Patrol agents and the equivalent of 2,750 CBP officers, Napolitano said.

U.S. Rep. Ron Barber wrote to congressional leaders Monday urging them to reverse sequestration-driven budget cuts for the Department of Homeland Security.

"Our borders are not secure unless they are enforced around the clock," Barber wrote.

On StarNet: Find extensive coverage of immigration issues at azstarnet.com/border

The plan

According to a letter from CBP to the National Border Patrol Council, the agency:

• Will reduce job relocations in half. Employees will have to incur costs of voluntary relocations, saving the agency $5 million.

• Will save $248 million by cutting out certain types of overtime, which applies only to Border Patrol agents, according to Art Del Cueto, president of the local Border Patrol union.

• Will not fill vacancies in front-line positions beginning in April, resulting in $12 million in savings.

• Will assign two agents to each vehicle.

Contact reporter Perla Trevizo at ptrevizo@azstarnet.com or at 573-4213. On Twitter: @Perla_Trevizo

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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