About 400 Sandia National Laboratories employees retired in Fiscal Year 2011 – 150 more than normal, but far fewer than some had feared as a result of a change in retiree benefits, labs human resources director Karen Gardner said Tuesday.
Sandia expects more retirements between now and the end of December, when the benefits changes kick in, according to Gardner. But current estimates suggest the total number of excess retirements will be far below worst-case scenarios of a mass exodus as a result of the benefit changes.
Sandia hired 1,130 new employees in FY 2011, which ended Sept. 30, Gardner said. That compares with 400 retirees and another 160-plus voluntary departures.
The effect was a net growth in Sandia’s roughly 10,000-person work force, Gardner said. That resulted in net growth of nearly 600 in Sandia’s employment levels, but in the long run Sandia expects that growth to be reduced by future retirement, she said. The idea was to bring in new researchers so they could work alongside and learn from veterans before they retire.
In 2009, Sandia announced that it was capping its generous retiree health benefit program. For retirees with 30 years service, for example, Sandia currently pays 90 percent of their health care costs between the date of their retirement and when they become eligible for Medicare. The change puts a cap on those payments for people who retire after Jan. 1, 2012. If premiums rise after that, Sandia will not pay the increased costs.
The health benefit change was followed in 2010 by a change in the way retirement benefits are calculated that had the effect of reducing money received by employees who retire after Jan. 1, 2012. For example, under the changes, an employee retiring in 2015 after 28 years of service with a final salary of $111,000 would see his or her retirement drop from $52,200 a year to $48,600 a year, according to Sandia.
Gardner noted that Sandia continues to have an extremely low rate of employee turnover – nonretirement departures – of just 1.6 percent.
“Sandia’s such a great place to work,” she said.
— This article appeared on page C01 of the Albuquerque Journal
By John Fleck
October 26, 2011
ABQ Journal l No Retirement Exodus at Sandia