Contract negotiations reached a breaking point Wednesday as representatives of the International Guards Union of America (IGUA) Local 69 walked out of a meeting with SOC-LA representatives.
IGUA, which represents more than 200 Northern New Mexico-based workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory said they walked out of contract negotiations after learning that SOC-LA never had the ability to deliver the retirement benefit improvements it promised the union it would pursue.
A LANL spokesperson addressed the latest twist in negotiations between IGUA and SOC-LA in a statement this morning saying, “The Laboratory is not a party to the negotiations, which are between the union and SOC-LA. The Laboratory and SOC-LA are continually revising and updating contingency planning for a variety of personnel structures. The Laboratory is confident that our people, facilities and material will continue to be fully protected. Our contingency planning relies on current Laboratory employees who are fully trained and certified to act as Protective Force officers, SOC-LA supervisors and other non-union employees, along with officers from other NNSA sites who are trained and certified to supplement the force.”
The contract between IGUA and SOC-LA was set to expire in late April, however, the two parties agreed to enter into a 60-day contract extension period to try to iron out their differences.
“SOC-LA negotiated in bad faith,” said Chris Mandril, IGUA Local 69 Business Agent in a statement Wednesday. “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…”
Negotiators, however, made it clear that Wednesday’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 say they hope to get back to the table at some point this month.
Over the course of the negotiations, most contract items have been resolved without controversy, Mandril said. 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.