Paul Shearon, formerly a Boeing engineer, was elected in the summer of 2018 as the president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. Across the nation, IFPTE represents 80,000 highly-skilled, workers in both the public and private sectors, including 8,000 scientists and technical workers at NASA. The union is an affiliate of the AFL-CIO. Shearon contributed this article to Space.com’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
“Houston, we have a problem.” Remember back when NASA missions, such as Apollo 13, were scrubbed due to mechanical issues? Today, NASA’s missions are being delayed and the space agency is being damaged for the long-term — not by equipment failure, but by the failure of our elected leaders to reach a budget agreement. On Dec. 22, 95 percent of NASA’s scientists, technical workers and other employees were furloughed — for the third time in the past year.
The appropriation process is broken and has been broken for a while, but the White House is making a bad situation worse. The current shutdown is longer than the previous two combined. It’s also different, because this lockout may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for the NASA workforce. [NASA’s 10 Greatest Science Missions]
As the president of a union that represents 80,000 highly skilled professionals in the public and private sector, including 25,000 Boeing engineers and 8,000 rocket scientists and technical workers at NASA, I understand how much demand there is for professionals with advanced degrees in science and engineering. I also understand the frustration dedicated NASA scientists have when they’re given two hours on Dec. 26 to remove their personal possessions from their labs and offices because after that the gates to their research center will be padlocked. I understand their frustration when not only will wages possibly remain stagnant after the first of the year because of President Trump’s recommended 2019 pay freeze through an executive order, a paycheck won’t even come. Furthermore, when the President of the United States, the top administrator for federal workers, seemingly couldn’t care less if government operations such as NASA are operating, I completely understand why some scientists, engineers and others with technical skills may seek employment elsewhere.
And make no mistake, the president is absolutely wrong with his claim that “many” federal workers support the shutdown and have told him to “stay out.” I don’t know where he gets his information. I have heard from only one member who supports the president’s inaction. Most are extremely frustrated and view this as an act of ineptitude. Oh, and by the way, our membership includes significant numbers of Republicans and independents, as well as Democrats. The president seems to think all federal workers are of the opposing party.