JBLM workers facing layoffs

As many as 102 civil service workers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord could lose their jobs by mid-January as a result of defense cutbacks.

That warning came in a letter Friday to the 1,500 workers in the base’s Installation Management Command. That letter said the 102-person reduction-in-force was a worst-case scenario.

The reductions are a result of expenditure limits mandated by the federal Budget Control Act of 2011. JBLM is one of a handful of defense installations targeted for civilian workforce reductions.

While more than 100 jobs are in jeopardy, far fewer may have to be laid off, said JBLM spokesman Joe Piek. Installation commanders are studying how to rebalance the civilian workforce at the base south of Tacoma to reflect the changing needs of the Army and Air Force in a post-Iraq and post-Afghanistan environment, he said.

That might mean shrinking some functions and perhaps enlarging others. Workers in the Installation Management Command could be used to fill vacant positions. Installation Management Command workers, for instance, manage base housing, maintain firing ranges, handle the base’s utilities and perform clerical and professional administrative jobs in base offices.

Another alternative to layoffs would be for workers to accept incentive payments for quitting or retiring earlier than they had planned. Some workers, however, may not be eligible for those incentives.

The Defense Department has set a deadline of Jan. 15 to accomplish the layoffs, but JBLM officials have requested a 90-day extension of that deadline to allow more time to study how best to accomplish the job reductions, said Piek.

If the deadline isn’t extended, layoff warning letters will be sent to specific individuals beginning in October. If the extension is granted, those warning letters wouldn’t be sent until January for layoffs happening by April 15.

JBLM has some 15,000 civilian workers, said Piek. As the Army and Air Force reduce their numbers in the wake of withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, JBLM’s number of service members assigned to the base could shrink by as many as 16,000 from its present 42,000, said an environmental study of the effect of the likely fighting force reductions nationwide.

While JBLM’s military unit numbers have nearly doubled since 2002, its civilian workforce has grown only modestly, said Piek. That likely means that the civilian workforce at the former Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base won’t be reduced in the same proportion as the service workforce, he said.