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SALT LAKE CITY — The more than 2,600 federal workers at Utah's Hill Air Force Base who were idled by the ongoing government shutdown may be asked to return to work Monday.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced Saturday that the Pentagon will recall most of its furloughed civilian workers in the coming days, a result based on liberal interpretation of the Pay Our Military Act, which was passed by Congress last week and signed into law Tuesday by President Obama.
The new law intends to maintain paychecks for military workers, but it also loosely includes civilian workers who perform duties that support the military.
"I'm thrilled for this," said Monty Lewis, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1592, which represents 8,000 workers at Hill Air Force Base. He said it remains unknown exactly when workers will be called back.
"They've all been told to watch the news and read the paper. If they don't see it there, they'll be hearing from the base," Lewis said.
Military departments have been tasked with identifying workers who will be recalled. Individuals who might be going back to work include those who provide health care to military members and their families; work on airplanes, weapons, or other equipment; and those who buy or sell supplies to or for the military.
Lewis said nearly all the workers furloughed at Hill Air Force Base since Oct. 1, are "people who support the military in some way, shape or form."
"Everything they do, when you come to the end of the circle, they are supporting the military there." –Monty Lewis, AFGE Local 1592
"Everything they do, when you come to the end of the circle, they are supporting the military there," he said.
Hagel said not all civilians working for the Pentagon would be recalled, but furloughs would be eliminated for employees whose responsibilities contribute to the "morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members," according to a statement released Saturday.
He said, "many important activities remain curtailed while the shutdown goes on."
"Ultimately, the surest way to end these damaging and irresponsible furloughs, and to enable us to fulfill our mission as a department, is for Congress to pass a budget and restore funds for the entire federal government," Hagel said.
There are still many federal employees, however, who don't work for the U.S. Department of Defense, who are sitting at home, Lewis said.
"Those employees aren't staying home because they want to," he said. "The government shutdown is a government lockout to them and we are still fighting until they get back to work and start getting a paycheck as well."