New Plant Closing Bill: FOREWARNED is Better Armed

The WARN Act, passed in 1988, was supposed to require employers to give workers and the surrounding community a 60-day advance notice of mass layoffs, providing workers a head start in preparing to find another job and communities a chance to brace for the economic impact.

But loopholes, exceptions and weak enforcement have undermined the act, say a group of lawmakers who have introduced new legislation (S. 1734 and H.R. 3042) to strengthen the WARN Act—the Federal Oversight, Reform and Enforcement of the WARN Act (FOREWARN).

Says Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the chief sponsor of the bill, along with Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.):

Mass layoffs send shock waves through individual households and entire communities. This bill is about protecting workers and helping communities respond to mass layoffs. The WARN Act was supposed to give employees time to find a new job. Unfortunately, fair notice has become the exception not the rule.

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office found the current WARN Act covers just 24 percent of all layoffs and employers provided advance notice in just one-third of those. The WARN Act covers layoffs of 50 or more workers in firms of 100 or more employees.

In May 2008, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard L. Trumka told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee the WARN Act “has failed to live up to its promise.”

The shortcomings of WARN boil down to this: The act requires too few employers to give too little notice to too few workers, and it allows too many employers to flout the law with impunity.

The new bill would:

  • Require employers to give a 90-day notice;
  • Apply to employers of 75 or more workers; and
  • Cover layoffs of 25 or more employees.

It also would give the U.S. Department of Labor the authority to enforce the WARN Act and increase penalties for violation to double back pay. Says Miller:

Workers deserve more than just a pink slip when they lose their job because of our nation’s economic difficulties….Current protections for workers being laid off are both confusing and rarely enforced. While an early warning may not save their job, a meaningful early notice will help them prepare to find a new job or upgrade their skills for new employment.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL-CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. He carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He’s also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold blood plasma, and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen him at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. He was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still has the shirts, lost the hair.

This article originally appeared in the AFL-CIO Now Blog on June 30, 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.