2 senators support WARN Act reform bill

Sens. John Kerry and Debbie Stabenow back tougher notification rules for plant closings and mass layoffs.
Sens. John Kerry and Debbie Stabenow back tougher notification rules for plant closings and mass layoffs.

Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic party's nominee for president in 2004, has put his support behind an effort to reform the federal WARN Act.

Mr. Kerry, of Massachusetts, and Debbie Stabenow, of Michigan, are the latest Democratic senators to sign on as co-sponsors of a bill to overhaul the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, known as the WARN Act. The 19-year-old law requires many businesses to provide a 60-day notice before a mass layoff or plant closing.

An investigative series by The Blade published last week found that the law is so full of loopholes and flaws that employers skirt it with little or no penalty.

"Our workers deserve to know in advance if they're going to lose their jobs," Mr. Kerry said in a statement yesterday to The Blade. "It's critical that they have time and money to prepare for what lay ahead."

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) introduced a bill last week -- dubbed the FOREWARN Act -- that would lengthen the notification period before a plant closing or mass layoff, increase penalties for violators, require more companies to provide notice before layoffs, and allow the Department of Labor and state attorneys general to represent workers in lawsuits.

Mr. Kerry said the bill will "soften the blow that layoffs can cause in our communities."

"When Democrats regained the majority last November, we promised to do everything we could to better protect American workers, and the FOREWARN Act will do just that," Mr. Kerry said.

READ MORE: Effects and reform of the WARN Act

Mr. Brown's bill was referred to the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which is led by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.). Mr. Kennedy said last week that he believes the WARN Act should be reformed.

The White House referred comments about the proposal to the Department of Labor. A Department of Labor spokesman said the agency is reviewing Mr. Brown's proposal.

The three leading Democratic candidates for president -- U.S. Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York, Barack Obama of Illinois, and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina -- last week said the WARN Act needed to be reformed to provide more protections to workers and to address changes in the nation's economy.

Mr. Brown, Ms. Clinton, and Mr. Obama -- in a joint letter to Senate colleagues last week -- asked for additional co-sponsors of the FOREWARN Act.

Mr. Brown's bill has five co-sponsors, including Ms. Clinton, Mr. Obama, Mr. Kerry, Ms. Stabenow, and Tom Harkin of Iowa.

"After two decades, we know the flaws of the WARN Act and must step forward to correct them," the senators wrote. "When an employer is shutting down its operations, sometimes after generations of employees have passed through its doors, the least it owes them and their community is the decency to provide fair notice."

Contact Steve Eder at: seder@theblade.com or 419-304-1680.