Government shutdown affects 2,000 civilians at Naval Station Great Lakes

Main gate of Naval Station Great Lakes. | Sun-Times media
Naval Station Great Lakes gate located on Martin Luther King Drive and Sheridan Road.

More than 2,000 civilians will be furloughed Tuesday, Oct. 1, at Naval Station Great Lakes because of the government shutdown, including the commissary where military personnel shop for groceries.

“About 2,500 will be affected,” said base spokesman John Sheppard, who himself is being furloughed today. They were told on Friday to report to work on Tuesday for three to four hours to complete their paperwork and then they are supposed to shut off their phones and ignore their email.

While some restaurants will remain open because of the revenue stream they produce, the commissary is staffed by “appropriated fund civil servants” and they will close the store Tuesday night until congress passes an appropriations bill. “Congress stopped appropriating funds at midnight, so here we are,” he said.

“And appropriated funds are more than just civilians. You can’t buy toilet paper for the barracks,” he said.

Sheppard said morale has taken a hit this year because first it was furloughs over the summer and “now a shutdown. The work doesn’t stop though,” he said.

Military people will have to step in and try and keep things running. Things like public works will be operating for at least a short time and emergency personnel will continue to work, although someone like a fire inspector would probably get a furlough letter, said Sheppard.

While he missed the Clinton-era shutdown, he was around for the one-day shutdown for President George H. W. Bush.

The shutdown does not affect the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center at this point because they are funded every two years, and contractors on the base are still working because their money was appropriated awhile ago.

“Morale,” he said, “is not good.”

There are 3,636 civilians working at the base as of March 2013 and 1,800 are at the veterans’ hospital.

The commissary closing will hurt the 2,600 enlisted personnel and 420 officers on the base because food costs are cheaper at the commissary. “It’s a benefit of being in the military because groceries are cheaper there,” he said.

Kathleen Hower, 33, of Great Lakes, said the store is extra busy because Tuesday was also payday, in addition to it closing at 7 p.m. Tuesday. “The issue is ridiculous, no money for that no money for this,” she said. “What is this twice in two years they have not paid the military,” she said, but what about the general entitlements, they still get paid. “Yet here are people defending your freedom and they aren’t going to get paid,” she said.

Late Monday night, President Obama signed a bill into law that said military would be paid. But no other agreement was reached.

Jim MacHarrie, 65, of Kenosha, Wis., is a retired U.S. Army veteran who works as a bagger at the Commissary and was also helping Hower put her groceries into her vehicle. “I’m tired of the Republicans trying to make everything President Obama does as bad. They should look in the mirror,” he said.

“After 7 p.m. that’s it, we’ll be shut down,” he said shaking his head. The baggers make only tips, no minimum wage or other wage.

Store manager Buddie Kolath of Great Lakes said there will be 75 employees put on furlough and they will not be ordering anything to restock the shelves until Congress acts. They would be eligible for unemployment, but “let’s hope it’s not for that long,” he said. He said according to Department of Defense policy, a reporter could not take pictures inside the store where about 25 people were in line waiting to check out. Kolath said they are normally busy on payday, which was Tuesday, but with the store closing, people are rushing in to get supplies at the discount for military personnel with military identification.

Robin Schmitt, 33, of Grayslake, was holding her son, James, 20 months, as bagger Caniah Oliva, 30, of Great Lakes, loaded what Schmitt hopes will be a month’s worth of groceries into her vehicle. “I hope this lasts an entire month, the last one was 17 days?” she said, referring to the President Clinton-era shutdown that lasted three weeks.

“This was definitely not needed. Their job was to do the budget, and they didn’t do their job and they still get paid?” she said exasperated.

“I’m praying that it’s not too long,” said Oliva, “I continue to pray that everything works out,” she said.

U.S. Congressman Brad Schneider from the 10th District, announced Tuesday that as long as the government remains in shutdown, he will return his salary to the U.S. Treasury.

“In the real world, when people don’t do their jobs, they don’t get paid,” said Schneider, D-Deerfield. “Because some Republicans in Congress continue to hold fast to a narrow ideology they knew would force a shutdown, Congress is not doing its job to keep government functioning,” he said.

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