Employees worry about fate of VLA with new vaccine mandate

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NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Employees at the Very Large Array are being given an ultimatum, get vaccinated, or get fired. Now, a number of them are worried about what that will mean for everyday operations at the site. “I’ve been there 24 years, I started there in 1997,” said Dan Mertely a radio frequency engineer at the VLA. However, Mertely’s time at the VLA, west of Socorro is coming to an end.


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“Basically they have told us if we refuse to get vaccinated, they will not allow us on NRAO property,” said Laura Barich. Barich has worked in Central Warehousing and Inventory at the VLA for 12 years.

Mertely, along with all other VLA employees were told by management, they have until September 1 to be fully vaccinated. If they refuse, they’ll be terminated. “We’re free to leave, we’re definitely going to be terminated,” said Barich.

Mertely, Barich, and Julio Gutierrez are three of the Socorro site employees who don’t want the vaccine. They believe about 40 of the 260 local employees are refusing. “There’s still a lot of uncertainty about this, it’s still in emergency use authorization,” said Barich.

The three have come to terms with the fact that they’ll no longer have jobs at the VLA come September. “We would, every one of us, would like to continue working for the VLA, it’s an awesome place to work,” said Mertely.

While it’s disappointing for them to leave on these terms, they’re also concerned with what it will mean for the site if a significant number of workers are terminated. The VLA uses dozens of dish-shaped radio telescopes to detect radio waves and create images of distant stars and galaxies in the cosmos.

Mertely believes the future of the site could be in jeopardy. “I believe that the array will be shut down for a few months, maybe half a year to a year. For all we know it may never open up again,” said Mertely.

The VLA director said Friday that 90% of its staff across the country have been vaccinated. KRQE News 13 asked how many New Mexico employees are refusing the shot, and if that warning the VLA would be seriously understaffed has any merit. They say they’re not concerned that the site will have to close down.

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