Originally created 03/16/05

622 volunteer to quit at SRS



Savannah River Site managers have approved all 622 applications to a voluntary severance program, an unexpectedly high number that will significantly reduce the number of employees cut in a first round of layoffs in mid-April, a spokesman said Tuesday.

That means managers are more than halfway to their goal of cutting 1,200 employees from the federal nuclear reservation's rolls by the end of the fiscal year and expect to give pink slips to fewer than 200 workers next month.

"This reduces the number of people who will be released in the first phase of this layoff," said Will Callicott, the spokesman for Westinghouse Savannah River Co., the main contractor for the site.

By the end of this week, most of the volunteers will leave SRS after accepting a severance package identical to the one that will be given in the layoff, Mr. Callicott said.

That package gives departing employees one week's salary for every year of service at SRS, up to a maximum of 26 weeks.

Company officials unofficially expected about 200 employees to apply for the voluntary departures and were surprised when more than three times that many filed during a seven-day window that closed March 4.

The number of volunteers created a temporary management headache for Westinghouse and its five partners because many were in jobs that weren't targeted in the two-year, 2,000-employee layoff plan, company President Robert Pedde said.

"We have some people volunteering to leave in areas we don't plan on reducing," he said.

As an example, he cited volunteers who are radiation contamination inspectors, which will be in high demand as long as radioactive material is stored, made or processed at SRS.

"We're looking at how we can cross-train people to pick up some work to let loose some of the ones who want to go," Mr. Pedde said. "We're going to have to see whether we can bring in contractors, whether that's economical. It's almost on a case-by-case basis to determine how you can go about that."

Despite this complication, the volunteers count toward the first-round layoff target of 800 employees on "pretty close to a one-to-one basis," Mr. Callicott said.

He declined to comment on whether company officials would ask federal energy officials for permission to accelerate their two-year layoff plan.

Reach Jim Nesbitt at (706) 828-3904 or jim.nesbitt@augustachronicle.com.

What's Next:

By week's end, most of the 622 Savannah River Site employees who signed up for a voluntary severance program will leave the federal nuclear reservation. Three times as many workers as expected signed up for the program, which means SRS managers expect to give pink slips to fewer than 200 workers in the first phase of layoffs scheduled for mid-April.

Previous stories:

• SRS gets more severance forms than expected
• SRS gets OK to lay off 1,200
• SRS layoff plan approved