>Paul K. Davis, Ph.D.
>Scientists & Engineers in Labor Unions? -- Yes
>For over a century, labor unions have been an important part of the economic
>and social structure of western societies.  The shifting nature of our economy
>has brought about successive changes in those occupations and industries
>most likely to be unionized. Recent circumstances have increased the interest
>of professionals, such as scientists and engineers, in labor unions.  When
>these professionals become unionized there can also be a shift in emphasis
>of the labor union's goals.  The attitude of professionals, who are often positively
>attached to their work, not just their pay, causes their unions to become
>interested in such subjects as project continuity, libraries and other support
>infrastructure, professional development opportunities, and new program
>advocacy.  Such has been occurring among the civil servants of NASA's Ames
>Research Center.
>Paul K. Davis received his B.A. in physics from Butler University in Indianapolis,
>and his Ph.D., also in physics, from the University of California in Berkeley.  
>He has done research and development in the fields of radiometric images of
>moon rocks and meteorites, energy efficient building design, magnetic and
>optical disk drives, and infrared telescope optics.  He was the optical designer
>and analyst during the concept development phase of the Spitzer Space
>Telescope, and more recently for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared
>Astronomy.  He has been employed by universities, a very small engineering
>and research business, some very large corporations, and the federal
>government. This past February he was elected President of the Ames Federal
>Employees Union, which is local 30 of the International Federation of
>Professional and Technical Engineers.
Dr. 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.

Then 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.

Theoretically, 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.

Currently 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.

During Q&A a number of interesting things came up:

The IFPTE represents about 1100 people here in Santa Clara County.

Union 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.

Unions in the Federal Government have been working to make workplace ergonomics into a safety issue.

The 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.

There 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.

The custodians at NASA are hired through a private company, which may or may not be unionized.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (peer.org) exists.

Government 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.

Tian Harter

John replies:
>Thanks, Tian, for the post on Ames workers' IFPTE chapter.
>Incidentally, I am an engineer (though not a moon-shot type) and am in a
>union as well.  I don't think that is too unusual in the municipal
>sector.  The Bush program has attempted to rob large numbers of federal
>employees the right to collective bargaining, but I am not sure the
>status of that attack as yet.  Perhaps Dr. Harris addressed that?  From
>my experience, I see no more interest in programs for the general good
>among the educated (perhaps I should say better-trained) sorts than
>among the ditch-digging sorts, and I do not see  a greatter affinity for
>solidarity amongst my pencil-pushing cohort than amongst the
>wrench-turners either.  I'm glad to see there is a high-mindedness among
>the space exploration set, though.  :) (silly emoticon here for cheap,
>but not malicious shot.)
>IFPTE Local 21 represents architects and other professionals (I don't
>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 engineers
>there a few years back.  IFPTE is pretty big in SF City government (and
>maybe the water utility-which is really regional-there) as well.
>Perhaps the law prohibits Ames workers from striking, but that is not
>true of muncipal workers (in California anyhow).  Our contract pretty
>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 the
>striking department.