Tuesday, January 18, 2005


Tuesday, January 18, 2005

LANL Workers Threaten Exodus

By Adam Rankin
Journal Staff Writer
LOS ALAMOSĀ­ In a meeting here Monday, Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., got a clear message from Los Alamos National Laboratory employees: Unless retirement benefits are maintained when a new manager is chosen to run the lab, there will be a mass exodus of the most experienced scientists from Los Alamos.
Udall came to Los Alamos High School during the lunch hour to gather employee and community comments on the draft criteria the Department of Energy has proposed for deciding who should be the next LANL operator.
"If you don't do this right, you could jeopardize all of the good things at LANL," Udall said after the meeting about the process for selecting a lab manager.
Udall was told by several senior LANL scientists and technical staffers that unless proposed criteria for the LANL management contract are changed to secure retirement benefits equivalent to those offered now by the University of California, as many as one in five to one in four of the 8,000 UC employees at LANL may retire.
Udall said the possibility of a mass exodus of scientists is the primary message he will be delivering to the DOE and the National Nuclear Security Administration, which is overseeing the competition for the LANL contract.
"We've got to fix it," he told the about 300 people present for Monday's meeting.
The University of California's current contract to run LANL expires in September, and for the first time ever, DOE has put the lab's management contract out for bid following years of security and management problems at the lab. UC has run the lab since it was created during World War II to develop the atomic bomb.
DOE will decide on a new operator by this summer. Comments on the draft criteria for awarding the contract are due Friday, after the deadline was extended from Jan. 7. Udall and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., had urged DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration to extend the comment period.
Of those who spoke Monday, nearly everyone had something to say about retirement benefits and how the draft request for proposals fails to address them. Udall and employees speaking about their concerns often were supported by rounds of applause.
The primary concern is that the University of California's desirable retirement benefits will disappear for longtime lab employees unless they retire before the university potentially loses the contract to another manager.
That puts employees in their mid-50s, such as David Carroll, in the position of having to retire early for financial reasons. Carroll said he would lose out on tens of thousands of dollars in long-term benefits if he has to retire early to avoid ending up with a lesser pension plan under the next manager.
LANL employee Robert Kares told Udall that the way the draft criteria are written now creates a huge disincentive for employees to stay with the laboratory. He said employees will likely be financially better off to retire early, rather than risk having benefits transferred into a lesser program with a new manager.
Kares, and several others, suggested one solution would be to allow current UC and LANL employees to keep their UC retirement benefits and start a new retirement account under the next manager. Udall said the idea seemed reasonable and that he would propose it to NNSA.
Longtime LANL employee Ron Moses said he knows many people in his lab group who are actively making alternative working arrangements and are developing contingencies "to get as far removed from the DOE as possible" should the University of California not win the LANL contract.
"They simply must opt for their personal interest," he said. "Most of us have our life savings in this."
Moses said the loss of institutional knowledge from scientists retiring early could be substantial, could deeply impact the next LANL operator and would likely have "huge national security implications" due to the loss of talent.
Many in the audience cited instances in which the draft criteria for awarding the contract and uncertainty about LANL's management future are affecting recruitment and retention of top scientists.
"Without those benefits, you are going to be getting second stringers, third stringers," said LANL employee Michael Sorem.
Matthew Murray said he knows of 20-, 30-, and 40-year-olds who have signed job offers from universities and will likely leave LANL.
"If you want the best, it is going to cost some money," he said.


Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Employees at LANL Organize

By Adam Rankin
Journal Staff Writer
LOS ALAMOSĀ­ The people of Los Alamos are looking to unite.
"We need workers, we need dollars, we need organization," said retired LANL scientist Joe Ladish in a call to gather Los Alamos National Laboratory employees, retirees and community members, as well as concerned people and organizations from the rest of northern New Mexico.
The group is hoping its collective voice will have a more substantial impact on the LANL contract competition process than their individual voices alone.
Ladish and about 40 others met after a town hall meeting sponsored by Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., Monday to lay the foundation for creating a group focused on generating a consensus statement on the LANL re-bid.
Ladish sent around a clipboard and green index cards for people to write their contact information down.
"We need your names, your e-mails, your willingness to participate," he said.
He said he wants the group to reach out to other communities affected by LANL and the contract competition. "It is bigger than all of us" because of the laboratory's economic impact on the region, he said.
Released Dec. 1, the so-called draft request for proposals lays out what the Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration expect from the next manager of LANL.
For many at the meeting, the document falls short, especially in addressing employee benefits.
More than a year ago, out-going Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham promised that LANL benefits would match those currently offered by the University of California. But the draft criteria says the benefits offered by the next manager need only be comparable, not equivalent.
"We believe, a number of us ... that we need to organize and put out a sustained effort," Ladish said about ensuring the final criteria are acceptable.
Among the items on the group's to-do list is creating a strategic committee to guide its efforts and determine exactly what it wants to say.
Comments on the draft version of the criteria are due Jan. 21, but Ladish said the group should push for change until the final contract is signed.

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