Updated: October 1, 2011 12:37AM
Fermilab expects to lose up to 100 employees over the next several months as workers are given an opportunity to take buyouts.
According to Fermilab Communications Director Katie Yurkewicz, the company’s director announced a “self-select voluntary separation program” on Thursday morning at the national physics laboratory based in Batavia. Almost all of the lab’s 1,900 employees would be eligible to apply for the program. About 5 percent of the staff is expected to be affected.
“The laboratory has faced tight budgets for several years, and this situation is likely to continue as the federal government confronts large budget deficits,” said Director Pier Oddone. “We have significantly reduced spending for materials and supplies but a substantial gap still remains in the funds for salaries, wages and benefits.”
The separation program is an effort to alleviate this gap.
In addition, the lab’s shutdown of the Tevatron at the end of September will call for a rebalance of the staff, Yurkewicz said. The Tevatron had a 28-year run as the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, but has been surpassed by the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.
New projects are in the works, and “we need to rebalance the workforce to have skills for those new projects,” Yurkewicz said.
Oddone said that the lab will move as many employees as possible to jobs on new experiments and projects, many of which are already well underway and in need of extra help. Still, he said, there will be a mismatch between the lab’s current work force and what is needed for the future programs.
According to Fermilab’s web site, if fewer than 100 people volunteer, the laboratory may have to move to layoffs.
This isn’t the first time the lab has grappled with this issue. In February, severe budget cuts were expected to cut $1.1 billion in federal science spending. As Congress passed continuing resolutions while working on a final budget, Fermilab and other laboratories were twisting in the funding wind.
If the federal spending cuts had been approved, Fermilab would have instituted furloughs that would have been equal about a 17 percent pay cut for employees. This did not happen.
If the full cuts had been realized, the news for the 2012 fiscal year (which runs from Oct. 1 through the end of September) could have been worse: Fermilab anticipated up to 400 layoffs. Now, Oddone is focusing on just 100 employees.
“The self-select voluntary separation program is a financial and benefits package that the laboratory is making available to Fermilab employees in order to accomplish a necessary reduction in the size of the Fermilab staff,” he said.
Questions about insurance coverage, severance pay and other separation program issues are addressed on the lab’s website at www.fnal.gov/faw/ssvsp.