Energywire PM: NOAA: 2 NWS technicians worked 7 straight months without a day off.
Emily Yehle, E&E reporter
Two National Weather Service employees worked seven consecutive months without a day off, according to an email from the agency's director that addresses the consequences of "budget uncertainty."
NWS Director Louis Uccellini sent the email yesterday to follow up on accusations made at last week's All-Hands Town Hall webinar. At the meeting, the head of the agency's union referenced employees working "at least seven straight months of rotating shift work" at a weather forecasting office in American Samoa.
The National Weather Service Employees Organization has long railed against what it says are widespread vacancies throughout the agency. Earlier this year, union officials asserted that 14 percent of positions were vacant; NWS officials say they are filling them as quickly as they can and are on an upward trend.
In his email, provided by the union, Uccellini described the situation at the American Samoa office as "very difficult" but also an "isolated incident."
Beginning in 2013, the office had two vacancies out of five meteorological technician slots, he wrote. One of the three remaining technicians took sick leave for four pay periods, leaving just two. Then, after he returned to duty, another technician died of a heart attack.
Before he died, the technician -- who was one of those who had been working every day for months -- discussed with his supervisor "the potential for sick leave" to get stress tests. According to Uccellini, that sick leave would have been granted, but the technician never submitted the request.
Today, the office has three vacant meteorological technician positions, while an additional technician is on leave. Other employees have had to help cover the shifts.
Uccellini said the forecasting office plans to bring in a retired technician and is awaiting final confirmation to hire two veterans. Other Pacific region offices have also offered employees to assist with "temporary details" to fill the gaps.
"I commend the employees at Pago Pago, as well as the NWS employees at all the other field offices and centers, for their dedication and hard work during these difficult times brought on by the budget uncertainty in 2013," Uccellini wrote.
Agencywide, he said, officials "are doing everything we can to expedite the filling of vacancies within our ranks." That includes a new contract with the Office of Personnel Management to speed up the process.
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