Sunday, June 19, 2005

Community Meeting and Survey:

At the community meeting with Tyler Przybylek last Sunday, the Coalition for LANL Excellence handed out a survey that we hope as many Lab employees will respond to as possible, as well as a good sampling of retirees. The survey is available at our web site:, on the home page, with no need to register to download it. Simply click on "Questionaire." The stated purpose of this survey is:
"The Coalition for LANL Excellence (CLE) is attempting to gather information on employee and retiree concerns and possible actions that they may take as a result of the decision to put the contract for the management of LANL out for bid. These data will be analyzed and the results made available to the media and any interested parties. The raw data and any specific personal information that are provided will be held in strictest confidence."

We are hoping to be able to hand this survey out at the Lab, and possibly receive responses there, but for the cost of a 37 cent stamp, those reading this can get us started on analyzing responses so that we can publish some data in time for interested parties to have some real idea about employee concerns and possible actions. Please make this survey known to your friends and colleagues. It should only take about 5 minutes to fill out. In order for this to have some validity, we hope to receive responses from a large majority of Lab employees (PLEASE: only one from each).

The Sunday meeting was taped and is showing on PAC-8 ( this week and will hopefully be shown on Labnet as well as other local cable TV stations. Those who were not there may wish to hear for themselves the responses of the NNSA representatives to the many questions that were asked. For example, a recent posting asked about possible layoffs due to the statement "Subject to the availability of funds . . . " Tyler Przybylek said this qualification had to be in there because a federal official cannot guarantee an expenditure that Congress has not approved. Moreover,the funding level for the Lab will have ben established before the changeover. They are also expecting greater efficiencies under the new contract. Of course, we all remain concerned about the impact of increased fees and gross receipts taxes. We also asked about the possibility of an employee representative in the new "Governing Board" model for governance. Their response was they would have no objection to this if a contractor proposed it. An Employee Association has been discussed by some. Perhaps it is time for such ideas to receive greater consideration.

I would also like to take this opportunity to respond to some inaccurate or objectionable postings. One posting (6/12/2005 07:15:00 PM) suggested that the Pension I would become insolvent because there are no new employees to provide benefits for older employees. This shows a complete misunderstanding of what a Defined Benefits pension plan is all about. Unlike the upside-down pyramid scheme of Social Security, each individual's contributions and corresponding employer contributions to a tax-advantaged Defined Benefits program are supposed to grow through prudent investing to cover the cost (in an actuarial sense) of the employee's retirement. Tyler Przybylek and Roberto Archuleta made it perfectly clear that DOE would stand behind the viability of their contractor's pension plan should market conditions result in a shortage of funds. What was also clear, however, was that once they reached a "full and final" agreement with UC on the transfer of funds from UCRP (which they expected would entail extensive negotiation), they would no longer stand behind the pensions of those who remained in UCRP. That will remain the fiduciary responsibility of the Regents. It should be noted that the LANL component of UCRP fell to 107% of funding last year from 115% the previous year. This was owing to market conditions and the lack of any recent contributions for each employee. This may improve somewhat with improved market conditions this year, but unless there is a big upturn in the market, contributions will no doubt have to resume soon. However, there will be no new contributions to UCRP for LANL retirees.

The other posting that I must object to indicated that the CLE has not sufficiently "bothered" or "annoyed" Senator Domenici (6/10/2005 02:20:38 PM)
comment to a 6/10/2005 08:34:00 AM post) and the following comment that this may be because the son of one of the Executive Committee members is an up and coming Republican lawyer. In regard to the latter, I can assure you that I for one don't even know who he is talking about, and that such considerations never came up at any of our meetings. As for the former, we have sent much correspondence to our Senators and Representatives and had many communications with their staffs, some of whom have attended our meetings to learn of our concerns. Although we may have "bothered" our Senators and Representatives, we certainly hope we have not "annoyed" any of them. We don't believe that is a good way to get a favorable response.

Finally, in regard to the concerns raised in the original post cited above (6/10/2005 08:34:00 AM) that CLE was viewed as a small group of people who believed "UC must win the contract at any cost," I would like to clarify that most of us came together over concerns about the lack discussion of pension and health care benefits in the draft RFP. However, we quickly realized that these concerns not only affected us as individuals, but the very nature of the Laboratory in the future. We have not taken any stand with regard to any potential contractor, except to respond to some statements from Northrop Grumman that appeared to indicate an emphasis on pit production and waste cleanup as opposed to scientific excellence. We anticipate being able to work with the NNSA and the new contractor (whoever it is) through the transition period to ensure that employee benefits are preserved to the greatest extent possible, so that Los Alamos will be able to continue to attract outstanding scientific talent. We also hope to be able to work with the new contractor after the new contract is in place to improve Laboratory cooperation with the surrounding communities.

Norman Kurnit
CLE Executive Committee member

Norman, Thank-you. CLE has worked hard to bring LANL contract information to the public. This critical changeover at LANL will not be finished for a year or more.

I would like to initiate a (flame-free) discussion on what a functioning LANL employee association would look like and what it could perhaps accomplish.
How many people would it take to create a large enough employee association to be significant? Are enough LANL people interested?

What legal rights would this association have? Could it participate in the LANL contract process?

Assuming that people were open to such an association, what should it concentrate on?

Potential areas of concern are:

LANL science culture.
Free and open discussion.
Employee benefits like vacation and sick leave.
Protection of LANL pension monies.
Health care & providers.
Definition of 'substantially equivalent'.
Fair benefits for the next generation.
Continued inclusion of foreign nationals.
Intellectual property & patent rights.
Flex time options.

If there is enough interest in this, we may shedule a meeting to discuss
A more inclusive association would also encourage retirees to join.
A good start on a list of issues above. How about adding: Grievance procedures? Interaction with the ombuds program?
"If there is enough interest in this, we may schedule a meeting to discuss options."

This topic has been brought up several times on the blog- the trouble is that there seems to be no wide-spread interest in any association. Therefore you are all on presumably your own...
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