[then running for Congress]
Many have lost their jobs, and now they're wondering what it was all about, those years of struggle to achieve professional excellence in fields that no one seems to care about any more.
The problem is most evident in the aerospace industry, where scientists, engineers and technicians have perfected skills which suddenly are no longer in demand.
Specialists in other areas of science and technology are facing a similar threat. In fact, it goes right down the line to workers who are being replaced by computers and other machines.
I discussed the problem recently with a physician-scientist friend from the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in Livermore. Dr. Don Watson of the Bio-Medical division is concerned about "our tendency to focus on machines, skills and technique rather than on the real resource, which is human creativity and imagination. People themselves are thrown on the garbage heap when it is only their skills that have become obsolete."
The discarding usually comes at an age of fat mortgages, kids in school and well-established career patterns.
No wonder people who work in defense-related industries resist change so fiercely. It's a horrible, lonely feeling to lose your job and wonder where the next house payment and bag of groceries are coming from.
People who use their hands and minds, whether nuclear scientists or machinists, are creative human beings capable of productive work throughout their lifetimes.
As Dr. Watson told me "We must provide realistically for continuous training as a inherent part of the careers of our scientific and technological manpower pool. Individuals who find that they need additional education or training in order to further their productive careers must not be asked to make personal and family sacrifices to get that training.
We are reaching that point already. The Alameda Naval Air Station, for example, has experienced steady manpower reductions over the last five years, and more are anticipated when the Indochina war finally ends. Some scientists and technologists at the Lawrence Radiation Lab, which is chiefly concerned with developing nuclear weapons, are also feeling job insecurity.
These people do not deserve shabby treatment. They have done everything their country has asked of them, and more.
"We must change our approach to federally-assisted training," said Dr. Watson. "We must follow up on our commitment to the people who have chosen careers in science and technology. We must provide life-long training opportunities whenever they are needed, as an integral part of our support for these people."
Dr. Watson made the prediction during an interview in which he discussed the growing national problem of "obsolescence" ofscientists and engineers and its related layoff impact.
The problem is of interest to Watson, who is leaving LLL at the end of June to begin a residency in psychiatry at the University of California at Irvine.
He has been at LLL for nearly 8 years in the biomedical division and long has been interested in the subject of science's relation to society. In his future psychiatric practice he intends to explore scientific creativity and the conditions a scientist needs to be creative.
"One vital factor affecting scientific creativity is information to plan ahead so the scientist is not obsoleted out of his career," said Watson.
"It is estimated that the knowledge acquired by engineers becomes half-obsolete in 5 years," said Watson. "The same half-life applies to physicians and others who predominately 'apply' skills or knowledge."
Professionals in university teaching are expected to keep abreast of new developments in their fields, but in industry that is considered secondary to the job, he said.
Watson remarked, "Dr. Samuel Dubin, an industrial psychiatrist at Penn State, has said professionals can be made obsolete by their employers through limited demands and rigid controls on their activities. It is ironic, by the way, that LLL—nominally a part of the University of California—is more like in industry than a university In that regard."
Is LLL causing career obsolescence in any way?
"The lab's policy on hiring and firing is based solely on skills," replied Watson. "A person is not assumed to have any ability to learn new skills when he is hired.
"When a program changes, new skills are sought In young, freshly trained people, but older employees are not, as a matter of course, given the time and opportunity to learn new skills. As a result, they are simply discarded. Many of them are then unemployable in the outside job market too."
The lab could use faculty from the University of California to teach persons who want retraining, said Watson. Other alternatives could be explored by involving the staff in decision-making policy, he said.
Watson said it is up to the individual to help prevent his own obsolescence. An "emotionally healthy" way for employees to correct the situation is through formation of a professional association, believes Watson.
Traditionally, professional persons don't think in terms of self-determination because in the past they have relied always on their patron for direction, he said.
"Nevertheless, professional employees will have to flex whatever muscles they have in order to maintain their levels of competence because history teaches us that nobody else will do it for them.
"Perhaps the first impetus for an institutional change in the research and development organizations will come from collective action. In fact, I fully expect professional scientists and engineers who work for organizations like LLL to follow the example of teachers: that is, to form unions or some form of professional organization that will be able to speak for them."
Watson continued, "In view of the fact that science and technology are so important to the future of this country, the Congress should take an aggressive interest in protecting the scientific and technological human resources.
"Continuous education could be made a part of the job—and automatically funded—in federally-supported research and development organizations. It has been estimated that 20% of an engineer's time should be spent in that way."
Watson favors a requirement that managers at research and development facilities be professionally competent and current in the fields they administer.
"In these days of 'big science' laboratories overseeing the needs of professional personnel and the management of expensive and critically needed scientific and technological programs are extremely important roles in society," he declared.
Watson is interested in obtaining information on technological obsolescence. Anyone who his personal experience with that issue may call him.
The new society, formed Wednesday, is believed to be the first of its kind at any American research and development lab.
Although the new society is definitely not a labor union, it is expected to attend job-related Issues.
Among these issues are lab policies for layoffs and on-the-job training. Concerns over professional performance which arise between management and the professional employee also will receive attention.
Some professionals individually have belonged to the California State Employees Association (CSEA) which represents them before management. This is the first CSEA chapter devoted exclusively to the professional employee at the lab.
The society will be virtually autonomous within CSEA at the lab, according to Don Watson, spokesman for the new group.
Watson said the society will try to overcome what he sees as a gap between management and the professional employee.
"Many of us feel that the laboratory's top management has withdrawn from the professionals, causing a strong management-staff polarization," he said.
"We have all suffered from the resulting isolation. For example, we have largely lost the healthy free communication of ideas that used to be the rule at the lab.
"We scientists and engineers have formed this society so that our creative talents will be effective in building and maintaining a viable, productive laboratory to work in the nation's interest."
Watson, who feels LLL morale has been low since the layoffs, believes that the new society will have a "substantial effect in raising the morale and therefore the productivity, of the lab's professionals."
He remarked, "People cannot be creative when they are depressed. Yet right now the morale of the professional staff is at an all-time low. We scientists and engineers—the lifeblood of the lab—feel that we have been treated like robots.
"I expect that the formation of this society will help improve the situation by providing us a meaningful voice in determining our own careers, as well as helping management to constructively mold the laboratory's future."
Larry Andreuccetti, CSEA's University of California program manager, was onhand at the organizational meeting.
He remarked, "By organizing this society to improve their working conditions, the professionals at LLL will upgrade the performance and productivity of the lab as a whole."
Glen Giddings, chapter president of CSEA at LLL, underscored that comment. "The society can help improve the rapport between the management and the scientists. It also will help keep LLL the foremost lab of its type," said Giddings.
This is the first union to be organized at a scientific lab, one of the nation's foremost that emphasizes military weapons research.
Now that the break-through has been made, other unions of this type—far different from traditional craft or even white-collar labor organizations—may follow in other weapons labs such as Argonne, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge.
All are operated for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission under a university affiliation. Lawrence and Los Alamos are connected with the University of California.
It is an extremely sensitive area. Dr. Roger E. Batzel, the distinguished director of the Lawrence lab, declined to discuss the union movement with the writer.
Dan M. Wilkes, the long-time public relations director of the lab, said for him: "We don't know who they represent at the present time. There is no evidence that substantial numbers of our people are members. The director does not want to become involved in a deep philosophical discussion right now."
A basic difference between the CSEA and an AFL-CIO union is that state employes are forbidden by law from bargaining for wages, fringe benefits or improved worldng conditions.
However, the CSEA is an effective lobbyist in Sacramento and exerts pressure on the state's university community.
Dr. Donald E. Watson, a physician who specializes in the environmental sciences, is one of the guiding spirits of the new society at Lawrence.
He said "over 100" members of the professional staff, of a total of 1800, had signed up as members of the union "and we expect this to quadruple very quickly.
The lab employs 5330 people. Watson and his cohorts are aiming to:
Open lines of communication with the UC regents who, it is said, have "largely ignored" the lab and have traditionally deferred decision-makng to the AEC. University policies govern hiring and firing at the lab, as well as salary levels.
Establish more definite guidelines on the conduct of research. Here some of the are motivation, expectation, consultation with and feedback from the management "without sacrificing scientific integrity or free inquiry."
Watson said the lab's top management had "withdrawn from the professionals, causing a strong management-staff polarization. . . . We have largely lost the healthy free communication of ideas which used to be the rule at the lab."
225 Let Go
Seismologist James Hannon said: "Right now, when you submit an idea, you sometimes don't hear back, or there is a vague outcome. There is no resolution.
"The work we do here is a major part of our lives. We should have some significant input and response in the way this part of our lives is run."
"Most of us feel that what we do is important, and we just want to get on with it," said George Michael, a computer scientist and a member of the society's steering committee.
But the most compelling reason for organizing a union was the reduction of force (RIF, it is called) at the lab earlier this year.
This, the third RIF in three years, drew a terrific backlash.
Certain professionals challenged the management. They found it odd, they asserted, that at the same time the RIFs were taking place, "unpublicized hiring' had actually boosted professional staff from 1,764 to 1,819.
A circular entitled "We Object!" read, "These actions have created an atmosphere of insecurity ard fear; they have been detrimental to the interests of both the employees and the laboratory.
"We see distinguished scientists and engineers with 10, 15 and even 20 years of service who have been deliberately fired. We see job descriptions deliberately rewritten . . . university regulations so ambiguous and transient that they invite administrative abuse . . . employes (treated) as pieces of equipment to be used up and then discarded. "
In short, the dissidents declared, the management had emphasized specialization, then had used it "as an excuse for depriving us of our jobs."
PR man Wilkes insisted that federal cutbacks had left no alternative but to reduce staff, and that the age of the scientist or his specialty were not primary considerations.