Wait­ing for the shutdown to fin­ish

Pressed with uncer­tainty, some lo­cal res­i­dents feel pres­sure of not get­ting paid

The Signal - - Front Page - By Crys­tal Duan Sig­nal Staff Writer

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.”

JPL Con­nec­tion

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.”

Con­stituent Con­cerns

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.”

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