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U.S. government workers brace for possible shutdown next week

By Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House and labor leaders discussed preparations for a possible U.S. government shutdown on October 1, a move that one union chief estimated could affect as many as 1 million workers, from housekeeping aides to rocket scientists.

The Obama administration's offices of Management and Budget and Personnel Management told the union leaders in a conference call on Thursday that government employees would be informed in the next 24 to 36 hours whether they would be furloughed without pay in the event of a shutdown.

A government shutdown at the beginning of the federal fiscal year next Tuesday is far from certain.

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have so far refused to give in to President Barack Obama's demand for a straightforward bill to keep the government running beyond September 30.

Instead, House Republicans have passed a spending bill with a provision that would defund the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. That bill is a non-starter in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Despite the showdown, even some senior Republicans predict there will be no government shutdown next week.

It is also difficult to get a firm estimate of the ultimate impact of a shutdown, which could last anywhere from a few hours to weeks, if it happens.

J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, estimated that about half of the union's 670,000 federal and Washington, D.C., members would be locked out of their workplaces if the government shuts down.

Those government workers deemed essential would be required to report to work but would not be paid if the government remains closed, Cox said in a telephone interview.

Contract employees will be paid, even if they work on military bases that are closed and are unable to get to their workplaces, Cox said, calling this a double standard.

Cox estimated that between 800,000 and 1 million government workers could be affected, including union and non-union employees. He said he based these numbers on preparations made for a looming shutdown in 2011, which was ultimately averted.

(Reporting by Deborah Zabarenko; Editing by Karey Van Hall and Cynthia Osterman)

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