KITTERY, Maine — Submarine maintenance workers at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard are being warned to think twice about sharing their opinions with the media about the federal work furloughs taking effect this week.

An estimated 1,300 shipyard workers are being furloughed, losing one day of work per week from now through September. Among them are more than 300 employees of the Submarine Maintenance, Engineering, Planning and Procurement Activity (SUBMEPP), a shipyard tenant that employees engineers and technicians.

With the furloughs beginning this week, union head Debbie Jennings has been frustrated with the lack of public pressure on Congress to help the furloughed workers.

Jennings, president of the local chapter of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, and Roger Maloof, the union’s chief steward, sent an email to workers Wednesday to encourage them to share their stories with Foster’s Daily Democrat.

The next morning, all SUBMEPP employees received an email from public affairs officer Norm Lafleur, who cautioned them to take heed of SUBMEPP’s policy regarding interactions with the media.

“At no time shall an employee contact or otherwise engage the media to voice opinions or relay facts on Navy or SUBMEPP matters without prior approval of the (public affairs officer) and the Executive Director,” Lafleur wrote in the email, which was obtained by Foster’s. “This is particularly true during this period of furloughs and budget uncertainty. The information that SUBMEPP or the Navy disseminates is for employee use only.”

That interpretation appears to conflict with information provided by the shipyard’s general public affairs office on Friday. In response to a query from Foster’s, shipyard spokeswoman Danna Eddy wrote that federal employees are free to speak to the media as private citizens, and there is no policy prohibiting them from doing so.

Foster’s contacted Lafleur on Friday and requested a copy of SUBMEPP’s policy concerning communications with the media. Lafleur requested to receive all questions in writing, then later indicated in a phone call that a response will not be available from his office until next week.

In the meantime, union officials say they’ve asked Lafleur to send out an email correcting his earlier statement, but he hasn’t complied.

For submarine maintenance workers, the furloughs will amount to a 20-percent pay cut for the next 11 week. Jennings points out that the same federal workers are continuing to wait for cost-of-living salary increases, which have been frozen for more than three years.

On top of it all, Jennings wrote in an email this week, the SUBMEPP office is now denying employees the fundamental right to share their concerns.

“We work for the Department of Defense to defend our freedom,” she wrote.

Distributed by MCT Information Services