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Argonne looks to trim 120 employees through buyouts

Updated: November 4, 2013 7:15PM

Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont is offering employees voluntary buyouts as the federally financed lab seeks to cut 120 positions because of funding uncertainty.

“Given the fiscal realities we face, this is the best option available to us,” said lab spokesman Stephen McGregor, who said other options, like layoffs, are much less palatable.

“I think it’s a number that will help us live within the budget over the next couple of years and yet still enable us to do this groundbreaking science.”

The federal government provides most of Argonne’s $794 million annual budget, the lion’s share of which comes from the Department of Energy. For the next two years, at least, lab officials are anticipating that their budgets will be reduced due to a sluggish economic recovery and a drop in federal spending.

“I’m a little pissed off,” said Wes Prucnal, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 742, representing technicians and machinists at the laboratory.

“It is going to affect the research,” he added, laying blame squarely at the doorstep of the conservatives wielding power in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“It is Washington that is doing this,” said Prucnal. “The tea party, they are taking the Republicans for a ride.”

Prucnal pointed to the Higgs boson, a particle that existed only in theory until researchers with ties to Argonne and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory made key discoveries.

The theorists who first developed the Higgs boson were awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize for physics following the research headway made at the two labs.

Argonne has already reduced travel expenditures. Offering what McGregor called a “voluntary separation program” to trim 120 of the lab’s roughly 3,400 employees is the next step.

McGregor declined to discuss what impact, if any, the buyouts will have on lab work — most of which is geared toward energy independence. For example, one recent accomplishment was the development of the battery chemistry at work in the eco-friendly Chevrolet Volt, he said.

The buyout program, which began Oct. 31, will continue through Nov. 15. At this point, it is too early to tell if enough employees will take the job buyout offer to reach the savings Argonne seeks.


Twitter: @BrianSlodysko

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