Waiting for the shutdown to finish
Pressed with uncertainty, some local residents feel pressure of not getting paid
Next Tuesday is pay day. But Dawn is worried that when that day comes, her husband, an air traffic controller in Palmdale, won’t see a penny.
“There’s no one in his building to even process his paycheck, even if he did have one,” she said.
Dawn, who lives in Stevenson Ranch, said her husband has been working without pay since the government shut down Dec. 22 in the wake of failed negotiations to build a wall for border security purposes.
Her husband is not authorized to speak on the record due to union contracts. However, as the weeks have gone on, Dawn has become increasingly worried.
Her husband works at a center that controls the airways around the Grand Canyon. He and other air traffic controllers are still working, but with limited resources. On top of that, they are being monitored for sick leave by the Department of Justice, she said.
“I feel that they’re really being silenced,” she said. “They’re not allowed to talk about a huge problem that’s going on.”
The rest of the staff in his building has been furloughed, Dawn said. Now, the airplane inspectors aren’t working. And when a computer breaks down, the information technology department is not present to fix it, prompting the couple to have concerns about airplane safety.
But beyond that, they need to pay the bills.
“It’s crazy,” Dawn said. “We have four kids, one in college, and a house payment and a car payment. We have all of our utilities we need to pay and our mortgage,
and we also recently switched to a highdeductible health plan. All the money denied us is going to us eating.”
She can’t recall a government shutdown going on for long enough for her family to worry about money.
“This puts so much stress on the family, and you have no say,” she said. “Our livelihood is being held hostage.”
John, a Saugus resident, had similar concerns.
The senior flight instrument technician at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said all NASA facility employees had been furloughed, except for his facility, which contracts its employees through the California Institute of Technology.
John said he had been told at a recent meeting that JPL, which receives its funding month to month, only had enough to pay its contractors through the end of the month, but then he would be laid off. His manager has already told him and others to look for new jobs.
“After getting laid off, we also won’t have any health insurance unless we pay for it out of pocket,” he said. “And we can’t use sick leave or accumulated vacation time to get a paycheck.
“I thought because we here at JPL weren’t government employees, we wouldn’t get hurt as bad,” he said. “Turns out we get hurt the worst. This has never happened before and JPL has been here about 50 years. I’ve been here 38 years.”
As a JPL employee, John said he has worked on everything regarding Mars missions, and is currently on the rover mission Mars 2020 set for launch in summer 2020.
“If we shut down, our schedule is so tight it will be delayed for two years at the cost of tens of millions of dollars, too,” he said.
But in an immediate personal sense, John, who just turned 62, is worried he’s past the point of being able to find a new job.
“Who’s going to hire me at my age?” he said. “What am I going to be — a Walmart greeter?”
JPL spokeswoman Veronica McGregor confirmed JPL receives funding from a different source than NASA and is continuing to work through the shutdown.
“JPL is a forward-funded contractor to NASA, so we continue to work during a shutdown,” she said. “We worked through previous shutdowns as well.”
Rep. Katie Hill, D-Agua Dulce, said she has heard from countless constituents like Dawn and John about the state of their jobs.
“I met Christy, a hardworking air traffic controller, veteran, and single mother of two who took time away from her family back home in my district to come to D.C. and share her story,” Hill said in an email Friday. “Ensuring the government is reopened means that much to her.
“I’ve also heard from government employees living paycheck to paycheck, and they’re gearing up for economic turmoil,” she said. “There are local federal prison guards working to keep terrorists behind bars, who are now driving Uber after their shifts to pay the bills. None of this is OK and all of this is indicative of a broken system that we need to fix.”
Hill, whose district includes the Santa Clarita Valley, said that it was on her and Congress to “open the government and stop using American workers and families as bargaining chips for political problems that our representatives have refused to solve for years.”