Jeff Colvin, Livermore

Management at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), emboldened by Proposition 22’s passage, has doubled down on their long-term goal of subcontracting the skilled crafts work at LLNL, putting the safety of the entire workforce and surrounding communities at risk.

Approximately 250 skilled crafts workers are responsible for maintaining and upgrading the entire facility infrastructure at LLNL. They are graduates of multi-year apprenticeship programs and are skilled and experienced journeymen. Moreover, they are trained to recognize and mitigate the unique hazards of the LLNL work environment, including the legacy contaminants of nuclear-weapons-related work reaching back over 60 years. The lab truly cannot function without them.

These workers are represented by University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE). They have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2019, with very little progress in over a year of bargaining. This is mainly because of management’s strategy of breaking the union by driving down wages.

LLNL’s skilled trades workers do not have pensions (unlike their counterparts working for local municipalities, for example), and their wages are on average about 10% behind the local market.

Wages are a big issue, but the main issue is the union’s right to bargain.

The whole collective bargaining environment has shifted radically under the Trump administration, arguably the most anti-labor administration in U.S. history. The long-standing rule under the 1935 National Labor Relations Act put the onus on management to show that the union waived its right to bargain changes to pay, benefits, or working conditions.

Under a new ruling by Trump’s National Labor Relations Board, MV Transportation, it is now the other way around. The onus is now on the union to show it has not waived its right to bargain. Bargaining at LLNL remains stuck on management’s refusal to even discuss the union’s compromise proposals to protect its bargaining rights.

Protecting bargaining rights might seem like a small matter, but it is not.

When last August’s wildfires forced evacuations, LLNL management granted authorized leave for all affected employees except for skilled crafts employees, claiming it had to bargain with the union first. Management kept denying the authorized leave in bargaining, only granting it after the union filed a grievance.

If management succeeds in forcing its terms on the union, they will likely move fast to further erode these workers’ protections, risking a huge uptick in safety incidents, which could potentially have ripple effects well beyond the LLNL site.