International Guards Union of America Local 69 (IGUA) just announced that they had reached out to SOC-LA, the company that provides security services at Los Alamos National Laboratory, to resume labor talks.
IGUA said they are reaching out despite the company’s threatening to withhold paychecks from negotiators as part of the contentious talks that the union walked out of last week, due to SOC-LA’s acting in bad faith, and continuing its demands for disproportionate increases in health care costs for union members while offering only a nominal increase in retirement benefits.
“Heading back to the table is the right thing to do,” said Chris Mandril, IGUA Local 69 Business Agent. “We are committed to getting a fair deal for the guards at Los Alamos National Laboratory. We know that SOC-LA may continue to throw sucker punches and threaten to withhold paychecks, but the only way to make sure our guards are taken care of is to resume talks and stand firm against SOC-LA’s bully tactics.”
In a letter sent to SOC-LA officials Wednesday, IGUA leaders committed to resume negotiations at 9 a.m. Tuesday, May 19. It is not known if SOC-LA will also agree to resume talks.
After IGUA leaders last week determined that they needed to walk away from negotiations, SOC-LA took the extreme step of threatening to withhold paychecks – effective May 11 – from the guards representing the union in negotiations.
“First SOC-LA threatened to lock out all guards, if the company didn’t get its way,” Mandril said. “Now they’re threatening the paychecks of the guards who stood up to them. SOC-LA has shown us their true colors. However, our members are professionals; they are former military and law enforcement. They know how to maintain their professionalism when they are under fire — even if it’s the money that puts food on their family’s table that is in jeopardy.”
Contract negotiations, which have been under way since late-January, got hung up in mid-April over health care costs and the need for improved retirement benefits for the guards. At issue was SOC-LA’s demand that IGUA members pay a large portion of their health care premiums while the company refused anything more than a nominal increase in retirement benefits.
SOC-LA at the end of April asked the union for a 60-day extension to negotiations and promised as part of that request that SOC-LA 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 expressly because of SOC-LA’s commitment to work to improve their retirement benefits. Only last week did the union learn 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, NNSA subcontractors cannot negotiate directly with the NNSA. SOC-LA is a subcontractor, working under Los Alamos National Security, a private company that contracts with the NNSA to run the lab. Additionally, LANS LLC has notified SOC-LA that they will not formally engage NNSA on behalf of SOC-LA to expand 401K parameters until the 60-day extension is exhausted. IGUA leaders consider SOC-LA’s inability to actually negotiate for what they had promised to be an act of bad faith
“SOC-LA negotiated in bad faith,” Mandril said. “Our members took them at their word and believed that they would work directly with the folks in D.C. and the NNSA Albuquerque Site Office to pursue better retirement benefits for the guards. 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.”
Over the course of negotiations, most contract items have been resolved without controversy. Indeed, the union has already agreed that its members will pay for some portion of their health insurance coverage, which until now had been paid for fully by SOC-LA, in exchange for SOC-LA’s providing an equitable increase in its contributions to their retirement benefits based on expanded 401K parameters.
However, SOC-LA has repeatedly refused 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.
Also in April, 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, 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.