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It’s decision time at LANL

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Lab: Deadline looms for workers to put in for buyout packages

By John Severance

A fair amount of Los Alamos National Laboratory employees have either made or about to make some big decisions concerning their livelihoods in the coming week.

Eligible employees have until Wednesday to decide whether to take a voluntary separation package.

From March 15-19, employees will have the opportunity to rescind their decision. On March 26, employees will be notified if their application has been accepted. April 5 will be the final day for those employees, who have opted to take the buyout.

So do they take it or not?

Lee Munson, who formed an asset management firm Portfolio, LLC in Albuquerque and who recently wrote a book called “Rigged Money: Beating Wall Street at Its Own Game” said it’s a difficult decision.

“It’s great if you have been working there forever and you are ready to retire,” Munson said. “But if you are in your 50s or younger, there are more things you must consider.”

Munson, whose mother lives in Los Alamos, said the biggest thing to think about is the pension benefit. He urged those considering taking the separation package to ask human resources how much the pension benefit is.

“It’s not how much severance money you are getting, it’s all about the pension,” said Munson, who has a number of clients who live in Los Alamos or who work at the lab.

Severance packages are being paid up to 39 weeks, depending on years of service.

The other consideration, Munson said, is health insurance.

The separation package calls for employees who are eligible to continue health insurance as follows:
• First 12 months: Employee contribution rates
• Second 12 months:  50 percent COBRA rate
• Next 18 months:  100 percent COBRA

“The bottom line is that they can not stay on the lab’s health insurance forever,” Munson said. “They have to ask themselves what is my actual health care cost. Health insurance for a family of four could be a couple of thousand dollars. People have to remember one of the top reasons for bankruptcy is health care expense.”

Munson, meanwhile, has made quite a name for himself. He has made appearances on CNBC’s Kudlow Report, Street Signs and Closing Bell and the Fox Business Network’s After the Bell. He is a regular on high traffic web video channels like CBS Money Watch and The Breakout on Yahoo Finance. And newspapers and magazines have called on him as well. Munson is a regular source for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, Smart Money and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.

So it was time to pay attention when Munson addressed the next topic.

Munson was brutally honest when it comes to employees analyzing their own work situation.

“You have to ask yourself: Do you think you are going to get fired in next couple of years? Do you think management wants you around? If management doesn’t, it’s only a matter of time. Am I wanted around here? If you don’t know what your status is, you better figure it out. It is important to know where you fit in the culture of the lab and don’t be overly optimistic.

“If you are on the outs now, you better find other employment before they kick you out.”

Apparently, there are some lab employees out there who are upset that they are on the excluded list and can not apply for the voluntary separation package.

A blog has been set up for employees who want advice about possibly getting removed from the excluded list. The blog is lanllayoffs2012.blogspot.com.

A quote from the blog: “Those of us on the “Excluded” list are potentially getting screwed.  However there is hope.  There may be actionable grounds against the Laboratory due to the fact that it has unilaterally and arbitrarily excluded certain classes of workers from being eligible for the VSP Offer. This may result in significant lost opportunity costs (damages) for many us.”

The lab, meanwhile, will hold community forums in Northern New Mexico to answer questions at the following times and locations:
• Monday, Pojoaque, 6:00-7:30 p.m., Cities of Gold Conference Center
• Tuesday, Española, 6:00-7:30 p.m., Northern New Mexico College Performing Arts Theatre
• Wednesday, Los Alamos, 6:00-7:30 p.m., Duane Smith Auditorium.