Thursday, April 06, 2006

UCRP-LANL vs. Retirees

Retirees ask for a seat at the table

ROGER SNODGRASS,, Monitor Assistant Editor
Thursday, April 6, 2006

While waiting for assurances about the security of their pensions during a major contract shift, retirees at Los Alamos National Laboratory have found themselves in an uncomfortable limbo.
Laboratory Retiree Group President Charles Mansfield held a press conference Wednesday with officers and other members of the organization to call attention to what they see as a cold-shoulder treatment from two institutions that they believe owe them a fuller and more timely explanation.

They were first informed indirectly over two months ago that the pension assets they earned while they were employed with the University of California were about to be separated from the rest of UC's retirees. Since then, they believe, they have been given mixed signals about whether or not the Department of Energy was standing behind their interests or not.
A series of informational meetings were held at the laboratory and other LANL UC locations at the end of March. UC employees addressed questions about retirement from the UC system.

But a notice in the laboratory's News Bulletin stated, "While the sessions will help address questions about retirement from the UC system, they are not designed to specifically address retirees' benefits questions."
A spokesman for UC said today that the university is continuing to work with DOE in the matter and that UC human resources personnel would be holding information sessions specifically for retirees in May.

"We are aware of concerns related to the pension proposals, and currently in discussions with the Department of Energy regarding these issues, as well as possible alternatives we would be looking at," said Chris Harrington in Washington, D.C.
Last month, Mansfield said, the LRG board sought legal advice from an Albuquerque firm. The firm suggested that the group should hire an actuarial firm and to write to UC and DOE's nuclear weapons manager, the National Nuclear Security Administration, to assert the retiree's right to have a seat at the table when the pensions are divided up.

"We are asserting our right," George Chandler of the LRG said during the press conference. "UC is on both sides of the table."

UC is no longer the manager of the laboratory, but it is one of the partners in the limited liability corporation that will take over management of the laboratory on June 1.

LRG has also asked for a formal acknowledgement from DOE of what they feel has been acknowledged informally - that DOE/NNSA does take responsibility to fund LANL pension obligations regardless of the decisions about managing the funds.

In the process of accounting for assets that needed to be transferred to the new managers, Los Alamos National Security (LANS), the University of California Board of Regents commissioned an actuarial report.

Mansfield said the report shows the LANL part of the UC Retirement Plan (UCRP) will be "born under-funded" with only 98 percent of the amount needed to fund the liability.

That compares with the UCRP plan as whole, that Mansfield said, has about 110 percent of its liabilities.

The University of California has recently started to consider the need to re-institute employee contributions to maintain the system-wide pension fund, which has been self-funded for many years with successful financial management decisions.

In a letter dated Wednesday to UC President Robert Dynes and Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman, Mansfield asked them to agree by April 14 to include the LRG's actuary "and other representatives as needed, present at any discussion and negotiation of actuarial assumptions and other matters" concerning the interests of the retirees.

The retirees have been advised by their attorneys that there is no legal recourse until they have been actually harmed, and so far no actual harm has been done.

Dynes responded to a letter from NNSA Administrator Linton Brooks on March 6.

"The University shares your commitment to a transition that will not diminish the pension benefits for LANL retirees," he wrote, in part. He also reconfirmed two basic principles of the process having to do with the retirement funds.

One is that UC retirees from LANL will receive defined benefits identical to those provided under the existing UCRP plan provisions, including annual cost of living adjustments (COLAs).

The other is that the regents will continue to oversee and manage the retirement plan program and set investment policy.

LARG represents about 1,000 of the 4,000 retirees impacted by the decisions made by UC and DOE.

Go ahead and ask me if I think you should consider LANL or any other UC-managed laboratory or facility as a place of employment!

UC's behavior in this matter has been scanadlous!
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