Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Another Double Cross at National Nuclear Security Administration of the Department of Energy

When a government agency decides to do a dirty deed the evening before a holiday, you know it’s not going to be good. So, when NNSA/DOE revealed on Good Friday that it intends to award a combined contract to run the Oak Ridge Y-12 National Security Complex and the Amarillo Pantex Nuclear Weapons Plant without requiring the winning private contractor to use the incumbent workforce, it was clear it was something they’re not proud of. The decision didn’t surface in the mainstream media, and that was just what they hoped.  

Maybe it was the choice of words (“giving contractors flexibility”) that aroused our suspicion. Flexibility has become a buzzword for employers who don’t like such “rigid” requirements as fair wages, pensions, decent working conditions, making safety a high priority or allowing workers a voice on the job.  

As our Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Atomic Trades and Labor Council President Garry Whitley pointed out: It doesn’t make good economic sense to toss aside a trained and experienced workforce in the first place. If the winning bidder decides to hire off the street, he’ll be trading off immediate efficiency—no learning curve—to save a couple of bucks on wages. And, what does that matter? Not much, unless the workforce is working around nuclear material and highly classified sensitive data—which they are. Can you imagine the consequences of a major nuclear incident caused by someone inexperienced mishandling highly radioactive nuclear material? Or a security breach involving highly classified plans and documents that could compromise our nation’s nuclear weapons program?  

The NNSA decision to scrap the practice of successor hiring breaks more than 50 years of past practice and it gives a sour taste to the concept of Labor Management “partnership” that the White House has been touting in its own personnel relations. There was no phone call or warning that this was coming down.  

Our present relationship with the Department of Energy is at best, strained. We can’t get a straight answer about their heavy-handed implementation of DOE Directive 351.1 (their regulation that gives contractors every incentive to end defined benefit pension plans in favor of 401 (K) plans). DOE denies that they have interfered with collective bargaining, on pensions, but our experience says otherwise.  

Another suspicious development—DOE’s budget proposal contains extensive plans for changing accounting processes for pensions. But, the information is so well camouflaged that it is impossible to tell whether it’s another ruse to cheat the workforce or actually what they claim it is.  

That, brothers and sisters is exactly the point: when it comes to communication between unions and management, DOE’s credibility is zilch. This latest move simply confirms our suspicions. They do not want an experienced skilled workforce; they want the disposable, throwaway variety.  NNSA/DOE has taken a page from the “Wally World” Human Resources manual—always the low price…and, if that’s the course they have chosen—they’ve got a fight on their hands.

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