Anastasio: Volunteers will get unemployment

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By Kirsten Laskey

Even with uncertainty, less flexibility and job cuts underway, Los Alamos National Laboratory director Michael Anastasio predicts a bright future for the laboratory.

He shared his optimism with the community during a LANL Workforce Restructuring Community Meeting Tuesday night at Duane Smith Auditorium. About 50 people attended the meeting.

Anastasio said the state had determined volunteer retirees will qualify for unemployment.

"Hopefully, this will help people who are trying to decide what's best for their personal circumstances," he said.

Four participated in the question-and-answer session.

One man asked Anastasio if the lab would be able to restructure to be more competitive in the marketplace.

"Absolutely," Anastasio said. The goal, he said, is to invest in programs that will bring in more dollars. The problem is that the lab is heavy on workforce, which needs to be reduced to create more flexibility.

Anastasio added reducing the workforce wasn't something he wanted to do but he didn't see other options.

Another participant asked about the timeline for the restructuring phases. She wondered if the timeline was tied to Congress approving a budget for LANL.

Not necessarily, Anastasio said. If the budget that has been discussed gets passed, then there will be challenges, he said.

Anastasio said if phase one, which is voluntary separation from the laboratory, needs to progress to phase two, involuntary separation, the hope is to do that as quickly as possible.

Phase three would be conducting still more reductions in the workforce, he added, if Congress passes worst-case scenario budget.

The woman commented that multiple phases in close succession might be even more painful to the community.

Anastasio said he hopes the problem will be resolved with employees volunteering to end their employment with the lab. As of Tuesday, he said, 350 employees have applied for the program. The lab needs to cut 750.

The applicants for voluntary separation will be notified whether they have been accepted by Dec. 20.

However, he makes no predictions and said the details of the phases following phase one have not been worked out. Anastasio said the lab remembers the challenges and the pain it experienced in the mid-90s and is trying to learn its lessons from that period.

Another audience member commented that he is a former LANL employee and currently runs his own company, which could sell things to LANL. He questioned if the non-weapons part of the LANL would be healthy or if he should move his company out of state.

Anastasio said while he could not tell the man what to do with his company, the non-weapons budget at the lab totals $750 million and with current events in the nation addressing homeland security, alternative energy and other issues, there are all kinds of opportunities for the lab to participate in.

Denise Lane of Re/Max of Los Alamos questioned the socio-economic impact of the uncertainty of LANL on the community. She said she hadn't heard that discussed early in the meeting. She commented for the 2006-2007 home sales are down $50 million in Los Alamos County.

"What do can the lab do to identify what the job loss would mean across the board?" she asked.

Right now, Anastasio said, they are in the volunteer severance phase and the impact will be different if they proceed to phase two.

He added he has personally expressed to Congress the impact on the community, so they're well aware of that.

The hope, Anastasio said, is that phase one will be successful.

He added he knows there is "a lot of anxiety" in the community.

Perhaps to eliminate those fears, Anastasio said he predicts the lab will overcome its present challenges.

"'I'm really am excited about the lab and its future," he said.