A new firm is now operating and maintaining launch range equipment at Vandenberg Air Force Base, and the switchover this month has led to layoffs for what some say may be as many as 500 employees.

The layoffs stem from the Air Force’s award of the Launch and Test Range Integrated Service Contract (LISC) to Range Generation Next LLC on Nov. 6. 

The total contract value, including all potential options and other factors, is $2 billion.  

RGNext is a joint venture of Raytheon Company and General Dynamics Information Technology. Other partners include ARES Corporation and ASRC Aerospace Corporation.

An unusual veil of secrecy surrounds the number of workers who were not hired under the new contract and now are without jobs. 

RGNext officials are remaining mum about how many people they hired under the LISC contract, saying those numbers are “competitively sensitive.”

“The  contract requires the contractor to consolidate operations, and seek operational transformation and efficiencies for the customer, U.S. Air Force Space Command,” Raytheon spokesman Jason Kello said. “Part of the value we were able to bring to our bid on the contract included overhead consolidation; flat, integrated organizational structure; elimination of data silos; and, better information sharing and situational awareness via smart, integrated information systems.

“We also proposed better labor utilization through improved training and cross utilization.”

Former employees have reported the number may range between 200 and 500 jobs lost.

Teamsters Local 986 Coordinator Lynn Swenson said 67 of his bargaining unit members were laid off, going from 242 to 175.

LISC is the Air Force move to put operations and maintenance responsibilities for the Western Range at Vandenberg plus the Eastern Range at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. under the same contract for the first time. 

Workers on the Western and Eastern ranges operate equipment that monitors rocket launches and missile tests from California and Florida to ensure the vehicles remain on the planned flight path and don’t stray over populated areas. 

Since 2003, the Vandenberg contract has been held by InDyne, Inc., with the team including L-3 Communications and Exelis employees.

All three firms notified the state they planned to eliminate jobs at Vandenberg, with L-3 Engineering & Technical reporting 91 slots gone, while Exelis cited 125 slots, according to a state Employment Development Department report under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification.

The lead contractor, InDyne, warned of the looming loss of 541 jobs at Vandenberg.

Notices filed with the state Employment Development Department, announcing layoffs at Vandenberg AFB, triggered EDD’s Rapid Response Team, which traveled to Vandenberg to talk to some of the 700-plus employees at the three firms, EDD spokesman Dan Stephens said. 

“Over several sessions, EDD staff explained services available at our America’s Job Center of California, located throughout the state. Services include career counseling, resume writing, labor market information, job placement, job training, and unemployment insurance,” Stephens said.

Pink slips for many of the employees were issued April 3.

Employees of at least one firm received an unpleasant surprise when their employer didn’t include a traditional severance package, although some L-3 workers laid off several months earlier did receive severance.

Previous contract changes and layoffs typically included a week’s salary for each year with the firm, help finding new jobs in the company for those willing to relocate, and more.

Lompoc city officials also have been left in the dark regarding the number of employees laid off at Vandenberg.

“Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, the Economic Development Committee has been unable to confirm the final numbers of the jobs lost,” said Jenelle Osborne, EDC chair. 

One worker reported only 11 of 52 employees in one department were hired under the new contract.

Meanwhile, potential job candidates at the new firm are reporting significantly lower salary offers — as much as 40 percent less — for positions not represented by unions.

Former supervisors reportedly are being reclassified as analysts to receive the lower wages while still having supervisorial duties.

Meanwhile, the Teamsters members unanimously rejected the new company’s first offer, Swenson said, adding they are awaiting a second offer from the firm. 

He said he remains confident the union will reach an agreement with the new company.

RGNext team officials said they will work closely with the employees and the customer to ensure a smooth transition, safe operations and mission success for the Air Force, Kello added.

“Also, as we prepare to assume full responsibility for the LISC contract, we will continue our employee outreach to ensure we hire world-class talent in support of this effort.”

Fifteen years ago, InDyne captured what then was called the Western Range Operations, Communication and Information contract from 40-year operator, ITT Industries. The contract typically accounts for the largest number of employees at Vandenberg.

The InDyne contract initially was expected to last 10 years but extensions were granted as the Air Force wrestled with the new request for one team to operate equipment at both space lift ranges.

As the hand-off occurred, some workers described chaos, unlike what occurred more than a decade ago. Swenson observed the previous changed.

“This transition has a lot of turmoil because a larger percentage of employees who administrator the contract were not retained,” Swenson said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com.