Northern New Mexico Workers Walk Out Of Contract Negotiations Saying Company’s Acting In Bad Faith
“SOC-LA negotiated in bad faith,” said Chris Mandril, IGUA Local 69 Business Agent. “It’s that simple. Our guys took them at their word and believed that they would work directly with the folks in D.C. and NNSA Albuquerque Site office to pursue better retirement benefits for the guards. Now, they turn around and say that they can’t do what they promised. Our members are honest, hardworking men and women who put their lives on the line every day to keep our community and our nation safe. They deserve better than false promises.”
SOC-LA could not be reached at this time for comment.
After contract negotiations, which have been under way since late-January, got hung up in mid-April over improved retirement benefits for the guards, SOC-LA asked the union for a 60-day extension. In formally requesting the extension, SOC-LA specifically committed in the extension agreement that the company would talk directly with the National Nuclear Safety Administration, which oversees LANL and sets the parameters for contract employees’ benefits, to pursue better 401K options for the union members.
The union voted on April 23 to grant the extension solely based on the terms of the extension agreement only to find out on Wednesday that, as a subcontractor, SOC-LA does not – and never did — have the authority to work directly with NNSA to set contract terms.
According to information provided by SOC-LA to the union today, NNSA subcontractors cannot negotiate directly with the NNSA. SOC-LA is a subcontractor, working under Los Alamos National Security (LANS LLC), a private company that contracts with the NNSA to run the lab. Additionally, LANS has notified SOC-LA that they will not formally engage NNSA on behalf of SOC-LA to expand parameters until the 60-day extension is exhausted.
“We have been negotiating in good faith all along,” Mandril said. “Even as SOC-LA threatened to lock our guys out and take away their paychecks, we stayed at the table and tried to do right by our members and the company. SOC-LA hit us with a sucker punch. We have to walk away.”
Negotiators, however, made it clear that today’s walkout was not an end to talks with SOC-LA.
“This is for right now,” Mandril said. “We need to regroup and decide how to proceed. We will come back to the table. But when you find out you’ve been bending over backward to work with someone who isn’t even being honest with you, you have to walk away for a while.”
IGUA leaders set no specific timeline for their return to negotiations, but, with the 60-day extension set to expire in June, union leaders hoped they could get back to the table at some point this month.
Over the course of the negotiations, most contract items have been resolved without controversy. Indeed, the union has already agreed that its members will pay for part of their health insurance coverage, which until now had been paid for fully by SOC-LA, in exchange for SOC-LA’s increased contribution to their retirement benefits based on expanded 401K parameters.
The sticking point in the negotiations has been SOC-LA’s refusal to bring Local 69’s retirement benefits up to industry standards. Currently, Local 69 members have a 401k plan – not a defined-benefit program – to help them prepare for retirement. SOC-LA provides a nominal corporate match that is well below half of the standard rate for the industry. In a Benefit Evaluation Index provided to IGUA Local 69 by SOC-LA, Local 69’s overall benefits ranked dead last when compared with all benefit levels at other comparable NNSA sites.
Last month, with negotiations in full swing, SOC-LA talked with several media outlets about its plans to bring in guards from other facilities around the country to take the place of the local guards if a contract agreement was not reached by the deadline. By bringing in outsiders to do the work, SOC-LA would lock out the Northern New Mexico workforce; who are veterans, former law enforcement, and current National Guard members, preventing them from being able to earn a paycheck.
International Guards Union of America Local 69 represents more than 200 highly qualified, specially trained protective force workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Local 69’s members live across Northern New Mexico in Los Alamos, Santa Fe, Rio Arriba, Taos and Sandoval counties, where they are active in their communities. Local 69 members routinely supports and participates in the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run, participates in blood drives with the Red Cross, donates and works with Northern New Mexico Youth Against Drugs. They also have annual organized coat drives and food drives to help the less fortunate in their communities.