U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy said yesterday the federal plant closing notification law, which he helped negotiate two decades ago, needs to be updated to protect displaced workers.
Mr. Kennedy's statement on the shortcomings of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or the WARN Act, came on the heels of a four-day Blade investigation, which found that the law is so full of loopholes and flaws that employers repeatedly skirt it with little or no penalty. The law, passed by Congress in 1988, requires many employers to give 60 days' notice of plant closings or major layoffs.
"In today's insecure economy, workers facing a layoff or job loss need advance notice so they have time to seek new work and make plans for their future," Mr. Kennedy (D., Mass.) said in a statement to The Blade. "Unfortunately, the WARN Act does not protect many of the workers who need it most."
On Monday, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) introduced legislation to reform the WARN Act by lengthening the notification period before a plant closing or mass layoff, increasing the penalties for violators, requiring smaller companies to comply with the law, and allowing the Department of Labor and state attorneys general to represent workers in lawsuits. The proposal, dubbed the FOREWARN Act, already has a list of co-sponsors that includes two Democratic presidential candidates - U.S. Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois.
But Mr. Kennedy's support could prove most valuable because he is the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, where Mr. Brown's bill has been referred. Mr. Kennedy said he looked forward to taking up Mr. Brown's proposals in his committee.
"I commend Senator Brown for his efforts to provide more comprehensive protections for hardworking Americans," Mr. Kennedy said in his statement to The Blade. "I believe that the WARN Act should also be expanded to protect workers whose jobs are shipped overseas."
In the 1980s, Mr. Kennedy worked to craft the plant closing notification law with Sen. Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio, the original WARN Act's sponsor. Facing opposition from Congressional Republicans and business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Democrats at the time compromised greatly to get a law passed.
A spokesman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the organization is analyzing Mr. Brown's proposals in preparation for taking a position on the bill.
"There's significantly more interest in a bill like this and more need today than 20 years ago because we have a society where workers - white-collar and blue-collar workers - are way more anxious about their future and their job," Mr. Brown said.
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