Jackson Lab to lay off 55, amid weak economy

Posted March 06, 2009, at 10:54 a.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 10:46 a.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — The Jackson Laboratory, Hancock County’s largest employer and one of the fastest-growing employers in the region for more than a decade, announced Friday that it is eliminating about 55 jobs due to the sluggish economy.

The lab, a leader in biomedical research, indicated that it also plans to temporarily curtail the weekly workload of about 315 of its hourly employees, from 40 hours to 37.5 hours.

The move is expected to reduce the lab’s staff from 1,427 positions to 1,372 positions.

Each employee who is losing a job will receive severance of two weeks’ pay plus an additional week’s pay for each year worked at the lab. Affected employees also will receive assistance with continued health insurance coverage through provisions of federal law, according to the statement.

Employees were notified of the pending layoffs at a labwide meeting on Thursday.

Those who are losing their jobs will be notified by their supervisors within the next couple of weeks.

“We deeply regret the loss of these employees, but this action is necessary to keep the laboratory on solid financial footing in an increasingly challenging world economy,” Rick Woychik, president and CEO of the lab, said in the statement. “We will do as much as we can to soften the economic impact of their separation.”

The work curtailments are scheduled to go into effect March 30. Most of the hourly staff who will have their workweeks shortened are animal care and operations technicians who work in the lab’s mouse rooms. By temporarily reducing hours for these employees, the lab will be able to keep 25 technician jobs that otherwise would be eliminated.

The cutback in hours for these employees is expected to last less than eight months, lab officials said. All employees with their hours curtailed should be back to working 40-hour workweeks by the end of that period.

Jackson Lab is known worldwide as a leader in biomedical research. It uses mice to study human diseases and medical conditions and breeds millions of mice each year that are used in similar biomedical studies around the globe.

Just two years ago, the lab was talking publicly about its growth plans and of its intent to add several hundred jobs to its work force over the next couple of years. Since 1990, when the lab had roughly 500 employees, the lab’s operating revenue has increased from less than $35 million a year to more than $160 million this fiscal year.

But since last fall, when the economy began to sour, the lab’s endowment has dropped from more than $80 million to less than $50 million.

Chuck Hewet, the chief operating officer, said in January that the lab typically uses about 5 percent of its endowment each year to help cover its annual operating budget, which is more than $160 million. This means the lab has gone from having access to $4 million in endowment funds this year to $2.5 million. The lab’s fiscal year runs from June 1 to May 30 of each year.

Woychik said in Friday’s statement that the lab’s senior management team is doing what it can to make sure the lab remains on solid financial footing during the downturn and that it is able to fulfill its mission of improving human health through genetics research.

“We are positioning the lab to weather this economic storm,” he said. “We have overcome major challenges in our 80-year history, including two devastating fires, and we will meet this latest test. We believe economic conditions will eventually improve, and, when they do, we plan on coming back quickly and strongly.”

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