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Union wants a voice in new LANL contract

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By Tris DeRoma

A union of professional and technical employees that work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory hope that when the National Nuclear Security Administration seeks a new management and operations contract next year, it will be less about profit and more about science.
“We’ve been building up a coalition of support for our ideas for influencing the process in the DOE (Department of Energy) and the NNSA to get them thinking about a nonprofit management model for the laboratory,” University Professional and Technical Employees Executive Vice President Jeff Colvin said. “We strongly believe that it’s the for profit management model that’s been the threat to the scientific enterprise to the labs, on which the lab’s national security and scientific research missions depend.”
To make sure their concerns are heard, local members of the UPTE, (UPTE Local 1663) are engaging the community through community meetings and forums.
At a monthly meeting of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities, a lab scientist presented the UPTE’s wishes to the board.
“I’ve spent a few days working on a proposed framework that attempts to address the concerns of all the stakeholders of LANL, the people I’ve talked to for the long term, the scientific vitality and success of the laboratory in the coming request for proposals from the DOE and NNSA,” LANL scientist Emil Mottola told the board. “I’m asking the regional coalition to consider this proposed  framework document as a working document and the concerns of LANL staff and employees for a better laboratory.”
Mottola and the members of the UPTE’s local chapter are hoping that through the coalition, state legislators can use the document to make employee concerns heard by the DOE and NNSA.
Mottola said this could easily be done by crafting a letter to New Mexico’s Congressional delegation.
He also suggested adding appropriate language to a bill the coalition is currently trying to get through the state Legislature that will eliminate tax exempt status for LANL, should the contract go to a non-profit entity.
The state receives about $200 million a year in gross receipts tax from the state’s national laboratories, which are both managed and run by privately run companies. The coalition’s view is that it’s vital to preserve the tax to avoid damage to the local economy.   
“The two particular asks are A, to find some common ground, maybe language into a letter to the New Mexico Congressional delegation that might be transmitted to the new administration, the DOE and the NNSA for the RFP (Request For Proposal),” Mottola said. “B, to consider in the board’s approach, the specific legislation the coalition is proposing to the New Mexico Legislature to preserve the gross receipts tax, how the future LANL contract could be structured to both incorporate the staff and employee concerns about scientific viability and also preserve substantial, equivalent revenues to the community whether the LANL contract is for profit or nonprofit.”
UPTE officials have worked for a change in the laboratory’s overall mission for about 10 years, since the contract came up for bid for the second time in the lab’s history in 2005-2006. The current management and operations contractor, Los Alamos National Security LLC, took over the contract in 2006.
Colvin hopes to know more of where they are in the process later in the year, once President Donald Trump’s administration is fully in place.
“We have roughly six months,” Colvin said. “Of course things are put into more uncertainty with the new administration. We don’t know where they stand, a new secretary has not been confirmed, we don’t know what’s happening with NNSA, things are somewhat up in the air. We don’t know what the thinking is at DOE, NNSA.”
Whatever the new administration looks like, Colvin hopes there’s room for their suggestions in the new contract.
“The focus used to be getting the science done to support the programmatic missions in the laboratory. Scientists can only work in an atmosphere that not only tolerates, but encourages open debate and discussion,” Colvin said.
UPTE represents 15,000 members at the University of California, California Community Colleges and the Livermore and LANL.