Monday, July 16, 2007
Layoffs Without Notice Turn Workers Into Lemmings
The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, passed in 1988, was intended to protect workers - both blue collar and white collar - from being laid off without sufficient advance warning for them to prepare for the change and start looking for a new job. The law currently covers all companies with 100 or more employees, requiring them to give at least 60 days notice if they anticipate laying off 50 employees or more. What happened then in the case of Meridian Rail of Illinois, which laid off 129 workers after only 8 days notice? Or at Mortgage Lenders Network of Middletown, Connecticut, which laid off 1,200 white collar workers after assuring many of them that their jobs were safe just a week before they were dismissed?
The WARN Act is riddled with loopholes that allow it to be violated on a regular basis. The Toledo Blade analyzed 226 lawsuits filed against corporations for WARN Act violations since 1989. Half of them were thrown out of court. According to The Blade, "In the majority of those decisions, judges cited loopholes in the law, ranging from companies that said they tried their best to give notice to employees to firms that claimed they couldn’t predict bad financial times. In 108 cases, WARN Act lawsuits resulted in settlements or with the courts siding with the displaced workers. But in dozens of those cases, workers received only pennies on the dollar of what they felt they were owed." Corporations use many tactics to get around the rules, such as laying off 45 employees per quarter to take advantage of the 50 employee minimum rule, or by extracting severance waivers from employees, allowing them to be fired without notice in exchange for a few weeks' severance pay.
Presidential candidates Clinton, Edwards and Obama would like to reform the law, and Senator Sherrod Brown is actively working towards that end in Congress. Howard Metzenbaum tried to reform the law in 1994, and Tom Daschle tried again in 2004. Metzenbaum's proposal included raising the 60 days notice requirement to 90 days, lowering the minimum number of layoffs covered by the law, and "allowing the Department of Labor to bring lawsuits on behalf of displaced workers." Maybe the Democratic Congress - while it lasts - can finally achieve this much needed reform.
"Without warning: Flaws, loopholes deny employees protection mandated by WARN Act" from The Toledo Blade