Thursday, August 22, 2013

Astronomy: ALMA Observatory on Strike

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is the largest astronomical project in existence with collaborations from across the world. It consists of 66 radio antennas located at an altitude of 5000m in Chile's Atacama desert. These antennas can be moved to provide the resolution, or image sharpness, of a giant telescope.
In summary, ALMA is one of the most powerful observatories available to explore the universe. 
And it is now on strike.

ALMA employs hundreds of people, many of which have to work at the high-altitude site. The employees have been in talks with the Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI) to increase their salaries and compensations for the work conditions. I personally don't know all the details, so I'll point you to a few news articles about it:
I'll add more links as I encounter them and the situation develops.
It's interesting that most of the first news was all in Spanish and local to Chile. It took almost a day for English-language news coverage to pick it up. Details are still sparse, but the worker's union website and social media outlets have been very active in their publicity.

Needless to say, ALMA science is stopped. Given the amazing results ALMA will uncover, this is a disappointing turn of events. To my knowledge, this is the first time an observatory goes on strike so the news here in Chile is closely following the events. Here's hoping the situation resolves quickly and in a satisfactory faction for all parties involved.

Update Sep-6-2013:
This article from Science magazine has an interview with the Chilean union leader in English and really clarifies the issues at hand, what the union is asking for, and what the current status of the strike is.

Update Sep-8-2013:
The strike has been resolved and ALMA is back in operations.
According to the new agreement, ALMA workers will have a reduction in the work schedule both at the observatory site located in the Antofagasta region and at the Santiago offices, beginning January 1st, 2014. In addition, workers will receive an end-of-conflict bonus, payment for strike days, an increase in the allowance for work at high altitude and a small increment for those in the lower paid positions.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if this is the first case for validating a preference for those more genetically disposed to work in extreme environments?