With the government shutdown nearing an end Wednesday, the approximately 4,500 people employed at the FAA's William J. Hughes Technical Center will soon head back to work. The federal government is expected to reimburse the employees for lost wages over the past two and a half weeks. But another group of workers at the center in Egg Harbor Township - most of whom are classified as nonessential and employed by private firms that have contracts with the U.S. government, will not be reimbursed.
All employees affiliated with the tech center spent Wednesday awaiting final word on the end of the shutdown. The owners of local firms that do business with the center said they are also waiting to find out when the stop-work orders on their government contracts will end.
The tech center contracts with firms that employ a total of about 1,500 people.
Trevor Newman, president of Leonard-Newman Unlimited in Galloway Township, said media reports of 800,000 federal workers being furloughed because of the shutdown did not tell the entire story.
"There are many other support personnel also at home," she said.
The firm provides consulting services to the Federal Aviation Administration, and all 17 of its employees were sent home after the shutdown - forced to collect unemployment benefits. Newman said she had two employees who had only worked for a few weeks when the shutdown started and were not eligible to collect unemployment.
"I'm a small business, but I have to do something just for my own conscience to help them out," she said.
Some firms were able to continue to work, including Air Traffic Engineering Co. LLC in the Marmora section of Upper Township, which is assisting the FAA in implementing new software for air traffic control procedures.
Though his 24 employees were able to keep working, President Frank Beningo said he feels for all of the other firms that were not as fortunate. He said their inability to work is a blow to the tech center's operations.
"In my opinion, operational and nonoperational (employees) are both key to the success of an air traffic infrastructure," he said.
John Pallante, owner of John Pallante and Associates in Atlantic City, which does air traffic control consulting for airports, said the shutdown has had a dramatic impact on not only his furloughed employees, but the profits for his and other businesses his employees cannot patronize when they are not working.
The loss of income for more than two and a half weeks means he lost about 5 percent of his gross income for the year, Pallante said.
"I still have my taxes and my medical insurance (bills)," he said. "You can't say I'm going to stop medical insurance (for my employees)."
Donna Sims, president and CEO of JDS Management Services Inc. in Linwood, wrote a letter last Friday addressed to the president and other elected officials.
"Why should my company be forced into default?" Sims asked. "Why should contractor employees be treated differently than federal employees?"
Half of her staff is currently on unemployment benefits, but there is no way to make up for the loss in revenue during the shutdown, Sims said.
We are in a spot because of their lack of concern for small businesses," she said.
Derek Chan, senior vice president of A3 Technology Inc. in Egg Harbor City, is encountering similar problems.
"We're out of luck," he said.
While some employees of the company did continue to receive work for other projects, half of those in the division working with the FAA will never get paid for the time off.
Currently, that is about 50 employees, Chan said.
Sometimes, the businesses can absorb the loss, and other times cuts are made to help balance the business's budget, Chan said.
"I've been told it's against the law to pay contractor employees during the same times of shutdowns/furloughs," Sims said in the letter. "Why does one group get preferential treatment over the other?"
The problems for the contractors have become more problematic as the government has used more contractors over the years, Sims said. She estimates more than 50 percent of the services provided through the federal government are provided by contractors.
"We (small business owners) have mortgaged our homes, depleted savings and retirement accounts and etc. in order to continue providing the service we committed to give the federal government," Sims said.
Her company has lost 70 percent of its work force since an FAA shutdown in August 2011, she said.
"What options do we have? When will my company get reimbursed?" Sims asked in the letter.
The shutdown was felt statewide, as one in five state residents said they were personally affected by the shutdown, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll released Wednesday.
The 799 registered voters questioned last week said the biggest impact is on jobs - as a quarter of those polled said they or a family member were furloughed, or their business has been affected. Many others reported problems accessing personal benefits or government-funded programs.
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