MANCHESTER — Internal Revenue Service workers gathered on Elm Street on Friday weren't just enjoying the break in the weather and getting a head start on the weekend.
Although they weren't working, it was hardly a day off. They were on furlough for the second time in less than a month, losing a full day of pay because of sequestration cuts in the federal government. It's a three-day weekend they neither wanted nor asked to have.
"I don't think people really understand what furlough means," said Anita Perry, an IRS revenue officer in the Manchester office. "I've had some people say when I've told them I'm not going to be working Friday because it's a furlough day. 'Oh, good. You have a day off.' Yes, without pay."
The "without pay" part brought the message home to a young woman in a car driving past the group. A supportive thumbs-up from the passenger window quickly gave way to a look of shock when Diane Saylor, a revenue officer in the IRS Nashua office, explained the situation.
"We're required to take a day off without pay," Saylor told the woman in the car.
They're not alone. Sequestration is affecting workers at federal agencies throughout the country.
Friday's crowd was mostly members of the National Treasury Employees Union's New Hampshire chapter. They met outside the IRS office on Elm Street and made a short two-block march, setting up outside the office of U.S. Sen. Kelley Ayotte, R-NH.
Chuck Magarian, president of NTEU's Chapter 11 and a Manchester-based IRS agent, said the group was not targeting Ayotte in particular, it was just the first stop and other members of the New Hampshire congressional delegation would follow.
"They're not working too hard to get rid of the sequester," Magarian said. "They talk about having to make tough choices. They really haven't made any tough choices. They let sequestration happen because they couldn't make any tough choices."
Magarian and a few others went inside the office, told Ayotte's workers there what the protest was about and were told their message would be passed along to the senator.
After about an hour outside of Ayotte's office at the corner of Bridge and Elm streets, the group headed to the downtown office of U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-NH.
"It's not exclusive to any one party or the other," Magarian said. "They're all in this together and they don't seem to be wanting to do anything."
Magarian said that Friday was the second of five furloughs between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. The first was May 24 and although they knew it was coming, the missing day of pay was a bit of a shock.
"As soon as you see that big chunk missing, that's a shock. When you lose funds based on being forced to, it's tough," Saylor said. "Now you get down to making a choice on what bill you're going to pay or you just cut back on doing certain things like going out to eat or going shopping, so it affects everybody all around."
Rose and Bill Neary, who both work in the Manchester IRS office, said it was doubly hard on their family income to loss a day to furlough. They brought along "Snickers," a golden Shih Tzu mix, that didn't hurt the group in its attempt to gain attention.
Magarian said Jackie Cilley, Shea-Porter's district director, came out to greet the group and immediately saw Snickers.
"She said 'That's not fair!,'" Magarian said.