More than 500 to be laid off from Livermore Lab
By Betsy Mason, Staff Writer
Article Created: 04/15/2008 06:17:42 PM PDT
Livermore Lab announced plans Tuesday to lay off up to 535 of its core employees, including some scientists and engineers, starting as early as mid-May.
This will be the first involuntary layoffs from the permanent, career workforce in 35years.
"Implementing an involuntary separation is not a decision I take lightly," lab director George Miller said in a news release Tuesday. "But our laboratory must be agile enough to respond to the challenges facing our nation."
The move is the third time in recent months that the lab has shed employees to make up for increased costs associated with the changeover to a private management corporation from the University of California in October.
In January, the lab laid off about 500 temporary and support employees, and last month, 215 permanent employees opted to take a buyout.
"Through these efforts and normal attrition, we have decreased the lab's workforce by nearly 900 people," Miller said in an e-mail to employees Tuesday. "This is a good start, but not enough to meet our goals."
Still one of the East Bay's largest employers, the lab in less than two years will have gone from more than 8,000 employees to about 6,600 when these latest layoffs take effect.
Lab site planner Sue Byers, president of the Society of Professionals, Scientists and Engineers local union, questions why the career workforce is taking such a big hit this time around.
"For years, though it's not written anywhere, contract and flex-term employees were here for the peaks and valleys," she said. "We still have some flex term and contract workers employed."
The new manager, Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC, a corporation formed jointly by UC, Bechtel and several other companies specifically to run the lab, anticipated about $80 million in increased costs.
But the actual number has spiraled to $280 million, leaving workforce reductions to make up the difference.
The extra $200 million stems from losing the tax-exempt status the lab enjoyed under UC, higher than expected retirement and health benefit costs and a yearly management fee increase from $8 million to $46 million.
Higher than expected inflation, and cuts to the Department of Energy budget, have compounded the problem.
"These layoffs will have serious consequences for all of us," Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, said in a statement Tuesday. "Simply put, the announcement could threaten the lab's ability to continue some of its pioneering research."
The loss of job security could hamper the lab's ability to recruit, Byars said.
"One of the selling points of this lab has been the stability," she said. "So I just don't know how this will impact hiring the best and the brightest."
Miller plans to talk to employees about the layoffs at an all-hands meeting on Thursday after he returns from Washington D.C. where he will testify before the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Committee about work at the lab and the proposed budget for 2009.
About 3,000 employees are at risk of being laid off. All of these employees were offered buyouts in February.
"We do expect this involuntary separation to affect some scientists and engineers," said lab spokeswoman Susan Houghton.
Scientists and engineers will be laid off according to which skills the lab will need in the future. Other employees will be let go according to seniority.
All workers who are laid off will get the same severance package as those who took the buyouts. This includes one week of pay per year of employment at the lab up to 26 weeks, and a year of medical benefits.
In addition, employees will receive 30 days of pay after they are notified they will be laid off, before their severance kicks in. Scientists and engineers have the option to stay for up to 120 days.
Houghton said lab management is working to find cost savings in other areas as well and so far has managed to recoup $7 million through energy conservation, cuts in travel and other expenses and consolidation of some work, such as Information Technology.
Betsy Mason covers science and the national laboratories.
Reach her at 925-952-5026 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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