MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. - One of the nation's most heavily unionized entities is the U.S. government, with 1.2 million employees and 56% of its workforce in unions.
Yet, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) finds itself being sued by two former employees who say one of the reasons they were fired was for attempting to form a union.
Two battalion fire chiefs, both military veterans in their fifties, are suing their former employer NASA for wrongful termination. Though they worked for a contractor, NASA Ames at Moffett Field, was in charge.
"NASA controlled all aspects of their employment. They provided the material, the fire trucks, They could decide if they were hired or fired," said Oakland attorney Chambord Benton-Hayes, who represents Cameron Gazaway and Robert Wilson.
She said NASA's treatment of her clients is unfair: "They were discarded because they tried to unionize and because they were older workers," said Benton-Hayes.
Then there's the issue of timing.
"As we began to go through the process of establishing this union, then we get this notification that our services will be coming to a close," said Gazaway.
They say they always passed their physical tests, but NASA evaluators began making comments.
"It was always, 'Oh, you guys don't drop dead on us, you know. You gonna be OK? You're looking kind of old.' You know, things like that; a lot of offhanded comments," said Wilson.
"Despite my age, I was dedicated to doing the very best job that I could possibly do," said Gazaway
Despite decades-long service, they say that NASA suddenly ordered them to get associate degrees in fire science within 45 days, denying requests for time extensions, even though NASA's Ames at Moffett Field knew about the new requirement long before.
"A year in advance, and in this entire time, knowing what the new changes are, they didn't bother to tell us," said Gazaway. "This is the first time they only gave them 45 days, and they were the only two individuals given that short window," said Benton-Hayes.
Gazaway recalled colleagues once accused him of leaving pubic hair in a sink.
"It was just me brushing my hair. I had to go through the pain of trying to explain those sensitivities concerning my ethnic background," said Gazaway.
In 2020, NASA settled an age discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for $10 million which helped establish a pattern and practice by the space agency.
NASA responded to KTVU on the lawsuit, saying they are aware but do not comment on litigation.