Updated 11:24 a.m. Jan. 28
The government shutdown ended Jan. 25.
With homemade signs and chants of “Hey hey, ho ho, shutdown has to go,” dozens of furloughed NASA employees gathered outside the Johnson Space Center on Jan. 15 to protest the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.
Thousands of Clear Lake employees who work at the Johnson Space Center have been without work or pay since Dec. 22. Ninety-six percent of NASA’s workforce is furloughed, and only a few NASA employees at the Johnson Space Center are still working—without pay—to keep the astronauts aboard the International Space Station alive, according to reports.
Alice Pursell is one furloughed employee who has worked at the Johnson Space Center since 1985. She protested to bring attention to the thousands of employees who have been without pay for over three weeks now.
“We’re ready to go to work,” she said as she waved to passing motorists honking in support.
Another employee, Steve Candler, who has been an operations specialist with NASA for 25 years, said he is being incredibly frugal while waiting for the shutdown to end. Pursell said she does not shop or go out to eat as much while waiting for her furlough to end, which hurts local businesses.
“It impacts the entire area,” she said.
Furloughed employees can live off their savings for only so long before they are forced to leave and find work elsewhere, Pursell said.
Pursell and Candler hope they receive backpay once they resume working, though that is not guaranteed, they said.
For the number of federal employees the Johnson Space Center has, it has about two or three as many contractors who are also affected by the shutdown, Candler said.
KBRwyle is one such contracting company. It serves NASA in several ways, from International Space System mission operations to crew training to running research experiments on the station, said KBRwyle Vice President Vernon McDonald.
Thousands of NASA employees are still doing work for NASA because the contracts were signed before the shutdown, but the company is not being paid.
“The government pays promptly—except in a shutdown,” McDonald said.
As the shutdown continues, more contracts will expire, he said.
“Over the course of time, more and more of those people will be affected by the continuing shutdown,” McDonald said.
Employees are experiencing anxiety as they wonder if they will be able to continue to work and if their benefits will continue if they are furloughed. Executives stress over cash flow and figuring out how to cover operations and payroll with limited income, McDonald said.
“It’s very disruptive,” he said.
As for NASA employees, there is no end in sight for the shutdown, Pursell and Candler said, but they hope their protest helps bring change sooner rather than later.