Federal workers in midstate relieved shutdown is over

Robins, aviation museum, Indian mounds workers relieved to be back at work

Telegraph staffOctober 17, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Even though he has been back to work for a while, Robins Air Force Base engineer Hans Hinners said he is relieved the government shutdown officially is over.

“It feels great that the government is off the shutdown,” he said. “For now, it looks like we’ve got a government.”

As the 16-day federal government shutdown officially ended Thursday, normal operations resumed at Robins Air Force Base, and federal organizations, such as the Museum of Aviation and the Ocmulgee National Monument, reopened.

Most base workers already had returned to work but were told they would be paid when legislators reached a resolution.

The legislation that ended the shutdown allows for workers to receive back pay. At one point, more than 4,000 base workers were furloughed during the shutdown, according to a news release.

“Our entire team is back at work providing world-class warfighter support,” Col. Chris Hill, installation commander, said in the news release. “Thanks to our great community for their support through this uncertain time.”

Over the past 16 days, there has been a noticeable mood shift at the base, Hinners said.

“Morale has been affected,” he said. “Everybody’s been hunkered down and waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

Similarly, manufacturer John Lockett said morale at the base has been “very, very low.”

“We had people who just came from one furlough. Everybody was wanting to get back to work, and then this just happened for no reason,” said Lockett, treasurer-elect of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 987, the union at Robins. The shutdown “came as a total surprise.”

On Thursday, the mood had slightly improved, Lockett said, as workers were excited the shutdown and the uncertainty had ceased.

“I’m glad it’s over and done with,” he said, “so the country can go back to taking care of business and meeting the demands of the people.”

At the Museum of Aviation, doors reopened and scheduled events are in full swing, said Pat Bartness, president and chief operating officer of the Museum of Aviation Foundation.

The museum, which was closed about a week, lost some gift shop revenue during the shutdown, Bartness said. Now, “we’re just happy to be back in business and happy to support this great community,” he said.

The Warner Robins Hall of Fame banquet and the museum’s Fall Fun Day will be held at the museum Saturday. Additionally, the museum’s haunted trail will continue through October.

Social Security offices stayed open to provide “limited services” during the shutdown, according to an email from Patti Patterson, regional communications director in the Social Security Administration’s Atlanta office.

“All Macon office employees continued to work throughout the shutdown,” she said. “We have resumed full services.”

Most Social Security needs can be handled online at www.socialsecurity.gov, without requiring an office visit or a phone call, Patterson said.

Reopening the Ocmulgee National Monument has gone very smoothly, with a number of visitors touring the site in the first business hours of Thursday, Superintendent Jim David said.

“We had the gates open by 9 o’clock this morning, and I had my full staff here by 10,” he said.

The monument has 12 full-time and three part-time employees, who worked to catch up on email and similar tasks, David said. Fortunately, given the time of year and little rain during the 16-day shutdown, grass didn’t grow out of control, so office work is the major thing that fell behind, he said.

“If we’d been gone a couple of weeks back in the middle of summer, it would have been a real mess,” David said. Only the annual mowing for a few fields was thrown off schedule, he said.

David said he’s glad the shutdown didn’t coincide with the Ocmulgee Mounds Annual 5K, scheduled for Nov. 10. The worst part of the past two weeks was having to call schools and tell them that their field trips had to be canceled, he said.

“We had school groups or tour groups scheduled every single day of the shutdown,” David said.

The government reopening plan, which passed Congress on Wednesday night, included the promise of back pay for idled federal employees. Four days of the shutdown fell in the period for which Ocmulgee National Monument staff have already been paid, David said.

“Basically everybody’s check was half of what it normally is,” he said. They haven’t been told when that compensation will arrive, but for the pay period which ends Friday, workers were told to fill out their timecards as though they’d worked regular hours, David said.

Ocmulgee National Monument staff used their time off to do various projects around their houses, he said; David himself refinished a chest.

“My dog is probably the most disappointed about me going back to work because she and I were going for three- or four-mile walks every morning,” David said. “This morning, I had to leave her at home alone.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751. To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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