Hundreds of Idaho National Engineering Laboratory workers turned in their security badges Friday and left the jobs many of them thought were secure for life.
But many of the employees were upbeat and eager to take the severance package and leave the U.S. Department of Energy site for a chance at a better life.
The 592 people who chose to leave rather than face the possibility of layoffs will get six months’ pay and the option to pursue up to $10,000 in education in the next four years.
Technical writer Don Sparhawk was unsure about applying for the benefits and leaving. He gave up a newspaper editing job for the INEL five years ago and thought he was set.
Tempted by the severance pay, he tested the job market by sending one resume to a local business that works for the Energy Department, other government agencies and for private businesses. He was offered a technical writing position at better pay, and couldn’t resist.
“Maybe five years down the road I’ll know whether it was a smart decision or the dumbest thing I’ve ever done, because I really do have a good job here,” Sparhawk said.
But with budget cuts paring the work force at the sprawling engineering and research lab, he had a hunch on Friday that he made the right choice.
“I think the future is a little bit bleak for the INEL.”
At a going-away lunch party for 43 people in the technical-publications division, people were looking ahead.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity,” said Lonnie Martinell, who plans to use the benefits to get a bachelor’s degree at Idaho State University.
“Now I have to decide what I want to do when I grow up.”
Most of her colleagues are thinking the same way, she said.
“People are afraid. Change is always a scary thing,” Martinell said. “But most of the people who are leaving have something in mind.”
Technical editor Fred Lilly wants to use the benefits to get a master’s degree in health care administration. He has been working part-time as a nurse.
“It’s a real hard decision to make, leaving security for insecurity,” Lilly said. “Once I got over a case of nerves, I decided to send in my application (for severance) and try something new.”
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