Mountain View Voice

News - July 16, 2010

Yelling and threats alleged in NASA Ames dust-up

Union president says deputy director 'charged' at him in e-mail spat

by Daniel DeBolt

Last month an eyebrow-raising e-mail was sent out to NASA Ames Research Center's 2,500 employees by Ames director S. Pete Worden, who reminded everyone that management should not interfere with union activities.

According to the vague explanation in the e-mail, the message was required in a settlement agreement for "an unfair labor practice charge filed by the Ames Federal Employees Union... alleging that (Ames management) engaged in conduct which interfered with the Union's exercise of its rights," the June 3 e-mail stated.

It turns out that the "unfair labor practice" involved Worden himself, along with his number two, deputy director Lewis Braxton III. According to documents filed with the Federal Labor Relations Authority, Braxton is alleged to have verbally "assaulted" AFEU president Leland Stone while Worden was present at an August 2009 meeting. The incident took place immediately after Stone sent an e-mail to union members which disparaged Ames management and boasted about the union's accomplishments.

The e-mail said to have incited the conflict read, in part, that "while Ames management is all a-twitter with the International Space University, Singularity University, new green office building construction, Zeppelins, new cafes in the research park, cheap beer at the golf course, and other peripheral activities, your union has prioritized its efforts on core issues crucial for maintaining Ames as a premiere R&D center and NASA as America's aerospace agency."

According to the charge filed by the AFEU, the meeting about those remarks flared up to the point that "Mr. Braxton charged across the room, lunged at Dr. Stone, and proceeded to scream and yell at him at the top of his lungs with his face within about 1 inch of Dr. Stone's face while shaking his finger in Dr. Stone's face about 1 inch from his eye. The assault lasted about half a minute."

The description goes on to say that director Worden watched and said nothing during Braxton's alleged tirade, but allegedly joined Braxton in making "vague verbal threats that the Union could expect hostile treatment if we did not amend certain statements in the e-mail."

After the charge was filed, the FLRA launched an investigation into the complaint and queried witnesses who attended the meeting, including. Janice Fried, the Ames director of human capital, and Dr. David Schwenke, AFEU's first vice president.

In brief e-mails about the incident to the Voice this week, both Dr. Stone and Ames management (speaking through public affairs) tried to put the incident behind them, with Stone calling the incident "old news."

Both sides acknowledged that Worden's e-mail, the only requirement in the settlement agreement, was appropriate. It read in part that "intimidation, threat, or coercion" of union members is not allowed under the union's labor agreement, including "conferring any benefit (such as appointment, promotion, compensation, settlement, or redress), or effecting or threatening to effect any reprisal (such as deprivation of appointment, promotion, or compensation)."

"Ames management believes that the allegations made in the complaint have already been addressed and settled, and Ames unequivocally stands by the sentiments in the Centerwide statement," wrote communications director Delores Beasley in an e-mail.

"The matter you refer to in the attachment is nearly a year old," Stone told the Voice in an e-mail. "The events were investigated by the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which has adjudicated the matter. An appropriate settlement was reached and has been implemented. This is old news."

Stone's AFEU represents nearly 1,000 union employees at Ames, including engineering and scientific staff.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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