Thursday, November 22, 2007
LANL Chief Hopes to Avoid Layoffs
By Raam Wong
Journal Staff Writer
Los Alamos National Laboratory director Michael Anastasio on Wednesday held out hope that enough lab workers would accept voluntary buyouts that layoffs may not be necessary.
The lab announced Monday that between 500 and 750 jobs need to be cut. If not enough workers leave voluntarily, the lab, which is northern New Mexico's largest employer, will then proceed with layoffs.
But Anastasio told the state Legislature's LANL oversight committee that he hoped pink slips could be avoided. That's because the large number of employees who are eligible to retire this year who may be encouraged to do so given LANL's generous severance offer, the lab boss said.
"If you've been waiting for a deal, this is the deal," Anastasio said. "The deal's not gonna get any better."
Anastasio said the number of people who chose to retire last year— 107— was "surprisingly low" given that about 400 workers leave in a typical year.
Anastasio said the job cuts were being driven by rising operational costs, flat revenue and talk in Washington of slashing the lab's budget.
Anastasio said he did not develop the workforce restructuring plan with a specific dollar amount in mind that needed to be cut. Instead, he felt that 750 jobs— or about 9 percent of the regular workforce— was the most that could be eliminated without compromising the mission of the lab. Anastasio said the average lab worker makes $120,000 including benefits, so a cut of 750 jobs would be a savings of roughly $90 million.
The lab director declined to speculate about how many workers might leave voluntarily. "It's hard for me to predict exactly what the workforce will do," he said.
Several members of the LANL Oversight Committee voiced fears about what the cuts would mean for northern New Mexico communities, where lab workers took home $911 million in salaries last year. Committee chairman Phil Griego, D-Santa Fe, said that lab managers had their "hands tied" by decisions being made in Washington.
The restructuring plan must still be approved by the National Nuclear Security Administration. Under the plan, about 7 percent of workers would not be eligible to leave the lab either voluntarily or involuntarily due to their critical role at Los Alamos.
One lingering question on the minds of many Los Alamos workers is if they'll be eligible for unemployment insurance if they leave voluntarily.