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Rep. Eric Swalwell, right, listens as lab scientist Christina Morales poses a quesiton about the possible furlough of lab employees at a town hall meeting at the Martinelli Event Center on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013, in Livermore, Calif. The meeting was called to discuss what happens if the government shutdown causes the furlough of lab employees. (Jim Stevens/Bay Area News Group)

LIVERMORE -- Rep. Eric Swalwell returned to his home district Sunday to meet with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists, who will stop receiving paychecks and begin to shut down the lab's research this week if the federal government shutdown is not resolved.

Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, told a town hall audience inside the Martinelli Event Center that he is working to ensure the lab's furloughed employees receive back pay.

"You'll have a fighter in me," Swalwell said. "I'm sorry you're going through this. It's just an awful time."

The furlough would effect 7,500 lab employees at the Livermore facility, which is the second-largest employer in Alameda County and the largest in Swalwell's congressional district. The lab's work focuses on nuclear energy and national defense. Workers will begin shutting down operations Tuesday after the Columbus Day holiday.

Scientists in attendance Sunday had concerns ranging from paying bills to the shutdown affecting recruitment and retention at the laboratory. Many, including Swalwell, agreed the furlough of employees could send scientists to the private sector, what the congressman called a "brain drain."

"We are going to have to dip into our retirement money," said Livermore's Christina Morales, whose husband works at the lab. "Obviously that hurts."

Lab employee Jim Moeller said a furlough could send a ripple effect through the local economy, hurting businesses where lab employees represent a significant chunk of customers.

"If there's a disruption, it's going to be dramatic," said Moeller. "I think a lot of people are looking at how they will be affected personally. That's also dramatic, but it's bigger than that."


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Last week, Swalwell sent a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and has asked two lab credit unions to offer interest-free loans to furloughed employees.

Swalwell and his staff have refused pay during the shutdown.

The government shutdown began Oct. 1 when agreement could not be reached on a spending plan for the new fiscal year.

David DeBolt covers breaking news. Contact him in Richmond at 510-262-2728. Follow him at Twitter.com/daviddebolt.