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Pearl Harbor shipyard employees to return to work Monday

By Star-Advertiser & Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 4:26 p.m. HST, Oct 5, 2013

All 2,765 civilian workers who were furloughed from Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard will return to work Monday, a shipyard official confirmed.

The news came after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced today that he was recalling most of the Defense Department's nearly 400,000 civilians who were laid off as a result of the government shutdown.

"As a result of the secretary of defense's decision today, and in accordance with guidance received, the shipyard is returning to normal operations as of the first shift Monday, 7 October," shipyard spokeswoman Jensin Weng Sommer told the Star-Advertiser.

That shift starts at 6:30 a.m. Sommer added that the guidance is that "all shipyard employees" should report to their usual work sites.

"I think this is definitely welcome news for our employees, as well as the shipyard," she said. The shipyard is the state's largest industrial employer.

Work will resume on three nuclear submarines in drydock -- the Texas, Buffalo and Cheyenne -- that was idled with the furloughs that sent home 63 percent of the shipyard's approximately 4,400 civilian employees.

The state estimates there are about 25,500 federal defense civilian employees and about 9,000 nondefense employees in Hawaii, but not all are furloughed. U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz previously estimated 25,000 federal workers could be laid off in the government shutdown.

The decision announced today by Hagel is based on a Pentagon legal interpretation of a law called the Pay Our Military Act. That measure was passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama shortly before the partial government shutdown began Tuesday.

The picture is still not clear as to which defense workers will return to their jobs.

"Before the government shutdown began, the United States made a statement that it would not allow our brave men and women in uniform, as well as the civilian employees who support their efforts, to be burdened by Congress' inability to do its job," said U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa. "With nearly 400,000 furloughed (Defense Department) civilian employees, it is now up to the department to determine which civil servants support our military's readiness, safety and morale under the new law and can return to work."

Hanabusa said it is her understanding that most defense civilian workers will be back to work by Monday.

Undersecretary of Defense Robert Hale said he expects 90 percent or more of those workers to be called back to work, Bloomberg News reported.

"No more than a few tens of thousands will remain on furlough, and it may be substantially less than that," Hale was reported saying.

In a written statement explaining his action, Hagel said the Department of Justice advised that the law does not permit a blanket recall of all Pentagon civilians.

But government attorneys concluded that the law does allow the Pentagon to eliminate furloughs for "employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members.'

Hagel said he has told Pentagon officials, including leaders of the military services, to "identify all employees whose activities fall under these categories." He said civilian workers should stand by for further word this weekend.

Hagel had made clear earlier in the past week that Pentagon lawyers were trying to determine ways for some of the Defense Department's nearly 400,000 furloughed civilians to get back to work.

He told reporters traveling with him Tuesday in South Korea, "It does have an effect on our relationships around the world and it cuts straight to the obvious question: Can you rely on the United States as a reliable partner to fulfill its commitments to its allies?"

Star-Advertiser reporter William Cole contributed to this report.

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