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Lab workers mull buyout details

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LANL: The last day for employees who take package will be April 5

By John Severance

Severance packages of up to 39 weeks of pay will be offered as details emerged from director Charlie McMillan’s meeting Thursday with lab employees concerning the volunteer separation program.

McMillan discussed specifics of the program during an all-hands meeting.

The NNSA announced late Wednesday that it approved a plan that would cut 400 to 800 jobs from the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Eligible employees from the regular workforce of about 7,600 may begin applying for voluntary separation on March 5. According to a person who attended the meeting, employees can declare whether they are taking the package March 5-14.

From March 15-19, employees will have the opportunity to change their mind. 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 accepted the buyout.

“They are moving fast,” the source said.

The plan calls for a severance package based on years of service, ranging from 1 to 39 weeks of pay.

The source said there were two levels of severance packages for employees, who were hired before LANS, LLC took over and for those hired after LANS, LLC took over. LANS, LLC assumed management of the lab in 2005.

“We’re very pleased with NNSA’s quick approval of the plan,” McMillan said. “Taking this action now mitigates the risk of involuntary layoffs and helps shape the lab to complete our missions in the coming years.”

Other important aspects:
• About 7,600 regular employees are eligible for the program. About 3,500 students, postdocs, term employees, and skilled craft employees are not.
• Certain essential job functions are excluded from the program.  
• Some applications may be denied to maintain a sufficient level of skills.
• An existing council of senior managers will continue other aggressive cost-curbing measures.

“We feel that this action is the best way to preserve the greatness of the lab in uncertain economic times,” McMillan said. “We’ve been through challenges before in this lab’s nearly 70-year history, and our first priority has always been to our national security missions and the science that drives them. At the same time, this program is the least disruptive to employees and the local economy.”

Lab spokesman Fred De Sousa said the severance packages are based on years of service and when the employee was hired.

For those employees, who transferred from the University of California to LANS on June 1, 2006, they can receive from two to 39 weeks of severance pay.

• They can receive two weeks of pay up to and including two years of service.
• They can receive one week of pay for each year of service if they have worked over two years and up to six years of service.
• And for those who have worked more than six years, they can get two weeks pay for each year over six years not to exceed 39 weeks.

For employees hired after June 1, they can receive one week of pay for each year of service not to exceed a total of 26 weeks of pay.

In both cases, employees 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

Also, the lab announced that it will hold community forums in Northern New Mexico to answer questions at the following times and locations:
• March 12, Pojoaque, 6:00-7:30 p.m., Cities of Gold Conference Center
• March 13, Española, 6:00-7:30 p.m., Northern New Mexico College Performing Arts Theatre
• March 14, Los Alamos, 6:00-7:30 p.m., Duane Smith Auditorium

Last week, McMillan said a combination of factors led to the proposed action:
• The lab’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget is more than $300 million lower than 2011 ­— $2.2 billion versus $2.55 billion.
• Future budgets are expected to be flat or lower.

“With a smaller workforce possessing the essential skills, we will be better positioned to deliver on current and future national security commitments. Allowing employees to apply for voluntary separation is a prudent step,” McMillan said.