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POJOAQUE — An attempt at light humor from Los Alamos National Laboratory Executive Director Richard Marquez fell on deaf ears during a community forum Monday to discuss the lab’s budget slashing efforts.
But one question from an attendee about how the lab’s cuts may affect the local economy set a dour tone for the night.
Northern New Mexico businesses face losing more than $30 million, or a third, of lab contracts, Marquez said.
And in addition to the highly publicized voluntary layoffs currently underway, the lab is also looking to cut $150 million in goods and services because of decreased revenue.
At some point, there will be more expenditures than the budget has coming in, Marquez said.
Marquez was speaking to a group of about 40 people, including lab employees, union leaders and organization directors, at the Cities of Gold Hotel and Casino about the voluntary layoffs, which could turn to involuntary layoffs if the lab doesn’t shed between 400 and 800 eligible employees by the end of the current fiscal year.
“Life goes on – you know -- after you lose a job,” Marquez said.
He also said that each person leaving the lab will have to sign a waiver stating they will not sue the Department of Energy.
Leroy Alderete, a welder at the lab, said he’s been working there for 37 years and is looking to leave, but that his job’s classification prohibits him from being eligible for the voluntary layoffs.
“It’s time for me to leave,” he said.
Employee Randy Flores said he was concerned that the lab wasn’t doing enough to recruit young skilled labor as it gets rid of its aging workforce.
“I don’t see that at the lab,” he said.
Marquez acknowledged the lab allowed a program through Northern New Mexico College, which trained students for skilled labor, to atrophy.
Another lab employee asked if a couple’s applications for the voluntary layoffs may be paired together so as to retire at the same time, but Marquez said that would not be possible.
He said the choice to leave is a very personal decision and is dependent of everyone’s individual circumstances.
Dianne Roybal, of El Rancho, said she has worked at the lab for nearly 20 years and was on the fence about leaving, but added that she thinks she’s going to stick it out.
“I’m probably going to stay because of my own (monetary) situation,” she said.
Hundreds of lab employees are in a similar position to Roybal’s. They have until Wednesday to submit their applications for the voluntary layoffs. Employees will be notified whether or not their applications were accepted March 26.