Several civilian employees who work Naval Air Station Jacksonville spent their furlough Friday holding an informational picket near the entrance of the base.
Nearly 7,000 civilian employees at NAS Jacksonville -- including nearly 3,000 who work at the Fleet Readiness Center Southeast -- are being furloughed for up to 11 days this summer due to mandatory reductions to the military budget required by the sequester. The unpaid days off equal a 20-percent pay cut over the next three months.
"This is the first time in 30 years that we've ever seen anything like this," demonstrator Sally Wilson said. "Do I pay the mortgage or do I take my children to the doctor? Which, I believe, many people are having to make a choice of."
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel visited the base two weeks ago and told the employees that things could get worse in military funding before they get better.
The protesters, who are spending their fourth Friday in a row without pay, say it's causing them to tighten their belts, and say businesses in the area are also hurting.
Some of the protesters handed out what they calling "furlough dollars." They say it represents the money they can longer afford to spend because of the furloughs. And on the back, it's got a number for getting in touch with a lawmaker.
The furloughed employees hope the picket will help them educate the community about what's happening and to gain public support.
"We're your brothers, we're your sisters, your aunts, your uncles, your neighbors," Wilson said. "We just happen to be government employees and we're going through a tough time right now, and we'd really appreciate the community's support as we go through this."
For restaurant owner Lolly Mahns, the impact of the furloughs has already hit hard. She says since they started, her regular customers at Lillian's Sports Grill, many of them civilian government employees, have stopped coming in. As a result, her lunch profits are down 40 to 50 percent. She says she's even having to cut back on staff just to make up for the lost cash.
"They used to get two days off and now we're almost at three days off," Mahns said. "Everybody gets three days off a week, so it really has hurt everybody."