The pension and other benefits changes announced by Sandia President Paul Robinson Feb. 13 didn’t come easily or quickly. Sandia formally began work on this package about 14 months ago (Dec. 19, 2000) after an earlier attempt failed to generate sufficient support and was “pulled back” by Sandia. The benefits changes were approved by Sandia’s Board of Directors, Lockheed Martin, and DOE/NNSA.
“We had no idea how lengthy and detailed the approval process would prove to be when we first began talking about changes several years ago,” says Paul, “and we absolutely couldn’t have done this without tremendous support from a lot of people.”
The “Sandia rumor mill” surrounding the benefits changes and their status was grinding pretty strongly for the past year, and didn’t always turn out correct information, Paul says. “I’m concerned that some Sandians incorrectly branded those in the approval chain as ‘opponents,’ when many were actually supporters — trying to make sure the changes were properly justified and that proper business and legal procedures were followed. I want to set the record straight and make sure those folks who ‘made it happen’ get some well-deserved credit.
“We thank a long list of supporters,” he continues, “and our New Mexico and California congressional delegations are at the top. The support we got on this from Sen. Pete Domenici was just extraordinary. He was indefatigable in his efforts to support our retirees and work force. Without his intervention at key stages, this would not have happened. Rep. Heather Wilson, who had heard from many retirees about the deficit position of Sandia’s retirement benefits versus the University of California’s, took a strong stand to close the gap in many letters and talks with NNSA Administrator Gen. John Gordon. Similarly, Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Rep. Ellen Tauscher gave strong support for these changes, with Jeff both writing and directly urging NNSA ‘to establish parity’ for Sandians. Rep. Ellen Tauscher stepped up to strongly support these actions as well. We should all say thanks to our Congressional delegations for their support (I have).”
“When the Executive Branch consideration of the issue began to get more complicated,” Paul continues, “with multiple offices attempting to ‘weigh in,’ the clear voices of the legislators who care most about these issues became decisive factors.”
Several people in DOE and NNSA were particularly helpful and supportive, Paul says. “There are others, but Albuquerque Operations Manager Rick Glass and Gen. Gordon worked particularly hard to make it happen. We give them a great big thank-you.”
Lockheed Martin officials also were supportive of the package and worked closely with Sandia and DOE/NNSA people to secure approval, says Paul. “President and Chief Operating Officer Bob Stevens and Executive VP of Technology Services Mike Camardo both supported the package completely once it was in final form. Technology Services HR VP Steve Brinch worked closely with Sandia’s benefits and financial systems folks, and was very helpful to us.”
Here’s what some of these supporters had to say about the announcement either in news releases or in separate statements prepared especially for the Lab News:
- “This step provides a more equitable retirement plan for Sandia lab employees and retirees,” says Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.). “It brings a new level of fairness for these workers, who will have more income to pour into the economy. The disparity between Sandia’s program and the benefits offered by other DOE labs has kept Sandia at a distinct disadvantage in the chase to attract and retain the best scientists. The new plan will put the lab on more equal footing.”
- “I am very glad to see that this has finally come to fruition,” says Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.). “I commend the DOE and NNSA for making this decision, and I want to thank the Sandians who work hard every day to develop the innovative technologies that protect our nation and expand our energy sources.”
- “Albuquerque is home to some of the most brilliant people in the world, and many of them work at Sandia National Labs,” says Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.). “We have been fighting for fairness for Sandia employees for almost two years, and today’s [Feb. 13] news is good news. We want the best and the brightest to stay in Albuquerque, and we want them to continue their contributions to New Mexico’s and Albuquerque’s economies.”
- “The world class scientists and other employees at Sandia deserve this long overdue increase,” says Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.). “These are the men and women who helped America win the Cold War and are at the forefront of today’s cutting-edge science, and they deserve our respect and appreciation.”
- “Retaining employees with critical skills in the nuclear weapons complex is a top priority for NNSA,” says NNSA Administrator Gen. John Gordon. “I’m pleased that we were able to support these changes in the pension plan. Senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman and Representative Heather Wilson were also strong advocates for Sandia. Sandia employs some of our best and brightest engineers, scientists, and other technical employees. I hope enhancing the retirement plan will help keep them on the job while we recruit and train a new generation.”
- Albuquerque Operations Manager Rick Glass says, “I would like to compliment the Sandia leadership on constructing a benefit change proposal that is both good for the employees, by improving overall benefits, and clearly in the best interest of the government, by creating a strong incentive for long-term employees with critical experience to continue contributing a few more years.”
- “Lockheed Martin is delighted these long-anticipated benefits changes for Sandians have been approved,” says Mike Camardo, Executive Vice President of Lockheed Martin Technology Services. “Bob Stevens and I, along with other Lockheed Martin folks, have been working closely with Sandia, DOE officials, and your Congressional leaders on this package. Our goal is to ensure that Sandia employees and retirees have a total benefits package that is fair, fiscally responsible, and comparable to others in the industry.”