YOUNGSTOWN -- Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, on the campaign trail in Ohio yesterday, said workers about to lose their jobs deserve "fair warning."
Mr. Edwards, who visited Cleveland and Youngstown as part of a campaign tour to discuss poverty, joined other leading Democratic candidates in support of overhauling the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, known as the WARN Act. The law requires many employers to give a 60-day notice before laying off employees.
"They need to have fair warning," said Mr. Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina, after meeting with community leaders at the Youngstown Business Incubator. "They need to be able to prepare and look for another job, not just be laid off and all of the sudden they are out on their own with no income, with nobody to support their families."
A Blade investigation, "Without Warning," has found that the WARN Act is so full of loopholes and flaws that employers repeatedly skirt it with little or no penalty.
On Monday, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) introduced legislation that would address some of the WARN Act's shortcomings.
Mr. Brown's bill, called the FOREWARN Act, would extend the notice period from 60 to 90 days, increase penalties for employers who fail to provide proper notice, give enforcement authority to the Department of Labor and state attorneys general, and make the law apply to smaller companies.
Two Democratic presidential candidates -- Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois -- have signed on as co-sponsors of Mr. Brown's legislation.
In a joint news release yesterday, Mr. Brown, Ms. Clinton, and Mr. Obama hailed the law as a measure that would "better protect workers."
"The FOREWARN Act is much-needed legislation that will update and modernize the law to better reflect the needs of U.S. workers in a 21st century economy and ensure that workers receive the fair notice that they need and deserve," Ms. Clinton said in the statement.
"This bill will transform the WARN Act from a symbol into an enforceable law. The least employers can do when they're anticipating layoffs is to let workers know they're going to be out of a job and a pay check with enough time to plan for their future," Mr. Obama said in the statement.
In addition to guaranteeing notice to workers, Mr. Edwards said lawmakers need to provide a "safety net" for workers who lose their jobs because of trade policy.
"That safety net has eroded under George Bush," Mr. Edwards said. "We need to strengthen that safety net, which means transitional help, education, [and] job training."
Earlier yesterday, Mr. Edwards, the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2004, visited a homeless shelter for women and children in Youngstown.
Chris Taylor, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said Mr. Edwards' criticism of the President is unwarranted and hypocritical.
"President Bush has done more for small business than any president," said Mr. Taylor, noting increased job expansion during the past five years.
Mr. Taylor also chided Mr. Edwards for living lavishly while pandering to the impoverished.
"He needs to look inside himself and look for a change before he starts to tell us what to do," Mr. Taylor said.
Blade staff writer James Drew contributed to this report.
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