International Guards Union of America Local 69, which represents the more than 200 highly trained Northern New Mexico workers who make up the protective force at Los Alamos National Laboratory, announced today that its members had unanimously voted “no confidence” in SOC-LA’s ability to manage its security contract with the lab after the union had to walk away from labor negotiations Wednesday saying SOC-LA is acting in bad faith.
“This is not the direction we want to be heading,” said Chris Mandril, IGUA Local 69 Business Agent. “We want to work collaboratively with SOC-LA to come to a fair agreement. However, after SOC-LA mislead our members and broke their promises to the dedicated, hardworking guards at LANL, we had no choice but to walk away from the table and to express our lack of faith in the company’s ability to effectively manage security at Los Alamos National Lab.”
Following IGUA Local 69’s walking away from the table on Wednesday, union leadership spent all day Thursday meeting with members to discuss the situation. The guards who voted unanimously agreed to say that they had no confidence in SOC-LA.
“Most of our members are veterans and former law enforcement,” Mandril said. “Their entire careers have been based on doing the right thing for our nation and for our community. They cannot believe that a multi-million-dollar global security subsidiary like SOC-LA would turn their backs on them. The guards are incredibly disappointed, but, as always, they are ready to stand up for what is right.”
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 on Wednesday 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 on Wednesday, 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.
“We have been negotiating in good faith all along,” Mandril said. “Even as SOC-LA threatened to lock our guards out and take away their paychecks, we stayed at the table and tried to do right by our members and the company. SOC-LA hit us with a sucker punch. We had to walk away.”
Negotiators, however, made it clear that they did not intend for Wednesday’s walkout or Thursday’s no-confidence vote to cause a complete end to talks with SOC-LA. Specifically, negotiations are not at a formal impasse nor are the guards on strike or planning to strike.
“This is where we are right now,” Mandril said. “We need to regroup and decide how to proceed. Our guards are at work, every day, protecting critical national security assets. We have no plans to change that. We will come back to the table.”
Over the course of the 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.
Last month, 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; who are veterans, former law enforcement, and current National Guard members, preventing them from being able to earn a paycheck.
About IGUA Local 69
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.