K. Davis, Ph.D.
& Engineers in Labor Unions? -- Yes
over a century, labor unions have been an important part of the economic
social structure of western societies. The shifting nature of our
brought about successive changes in those occupations and industries
likely to be unionized. Recent circumstances have increased the interest
professionals, such as scientists and engineers, in labor unions.
professionals become unionized there can also be a shift in emphasis
the labor union's goals. The attitude of professionals, who are
to their work, not just their pay, causes their unions to become
in such subjects as project continuity, libraries and other support
professional development opportunities, and new program
Such has been occurring among the civil servants of NASA's Ames
Davis received his B.A. in physics from Butler University in
Ph.D., also in physics, from the University of California in Berkeley.
done research and development in the fields of radiometric images of
rocks and meteorites, energy efficient building design, magnetic and
disk drives, and infrared telescope optics. He was the optical
analyst during the concept development phase of the Spitzer Space
and more recently for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared
He has been employed by universities, a very small engineering
research business, some very large corporations, and the federal
This past February he was elected President of the Ames Federal
Union, which is local 30 of the International Federation of
and Technical Engineers.
Davis began his talk by explaining that his Union local was originally
formed to represent secretaries at Moffett Field about 50 years ago.
Since then it has grown to include hourly and salaried technical and
scientific personnel. NASA has four or five locals, those being Ames,
Houston, and NASA HQ in Washington, DC. Usually in Unions
"International" in the name means they have a few members in Canada,
and for IFPTE that means they have one local who represent the
employees of a large hydro-electric facility that is currently on
strike in Canada.
the Dr. explained that by training he is a physicist. He grew up in
Indiana, where he had been at the far left end of the political
spectrum. He got his Ph.D. at UC Berkeley, where he had found out he
was at the far right end of the political spectrum, even though none of
his political beliefs had changed when he came to California. He spent
many years working in technical and managerial roles before getting
elected Union Local President, which is a part time project he does in
addition to the regular duties of his official job.
Dr. Davis thinks that Management is supposed to manage the employees,
employees are supposed to elect the Union representation to keep
management in line, and they are all supposed to work together to make
NASA an agency to be proud of.
everybody at NASA is concentrating on developing a deeper culture of
safety. This has meant getting more conscious about the need to speak
up when there is a problem, even when it is easier to be quiet and
"take the money." Dr. Davis has seen that the problem is not so much
getting people to speak up, but rather figuring out from a management
perspective who is bringing a valid concern
that needs to be addressed. Despite all the problems, they are looking
forward to returning the Space Shuttle to orbit tomorrow, for the first
time since the Columbia disaster.
Q&A a number of interesting things came up:
IFPTE represents about 1100
people here in Santa Clara County.
membership is not a required thing for people that work there, but he
couldn't tell us what percentage of the workforce pays dues because
some representatives from management were in the room.
in the Federal Government have been working to make workplace
ergonomics into a safety issue.
current administration seems bent on privatizing everything and/or
making it part of homeland security, which feels to
Dr. Davis something like and
end run around the Union.
are no union members that staff something 24/7. However, there are many
members that are on call if they are needed in a crisis.
custodians at NASA are hired through a private company, which may or may not be
Employees for Environmental Responsibility (peer.org) exists.
Unions are not allowed to strike. They have a clause in their contract
that allows for binding arbitration. Dr. Davis supports binding
arbitration with an outside arbitrator.
>Thanks, Tian, for the post on Ames workers' IFPTE chapter.
>Incidentally, I am an engineer (though not a moon-shot type) and am
>union as well. I don't think that is too unusual in the
>sector. The Bush program has attempted to rob large numbers
>employees the right to collective bargaining, but I am not sure the
>status of that attack as yet. Perhaps Dr. Harris addressed
>my experience, I see no more interest in programs for the general
>among the educated (perhaps I should say better-trained) sorts than
>among the ditch-digging sorts, and I do not see a greatter
>solidarity amongst my pencil-pushing cohort than amongst the
>wrench-turners either. I'm glad to see there is a
>the space exploration set, though. :) (silly emoticon here
>but not malicious shot.)
>IFPTE Local 21 represents architects and other professionals (I
>know which) at the County of Santa Clara. As a matter of
fact, I was in
>IFPTE in the City of Hayward Chapter when I worked amongst
>there a few years back. IFPTE is pretty big in SF City
>maybe the water utility-which is really regional-there) as well.
>Perhaps the law prohibits Ames workers from striking, but that is
>true of muncipal workers (in California anyhow). Our contract
>much prohibits us from striking while it is in effect, but when it
>expires (usually every two or three years), it's all blue sky in