WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. Sherrod Brown announced Wednesday he intends to introduce the Fair Warning Act of 2019, his latest attempt to strengthen legislation designed to help workers and communities affected by layoffs or business closures.
Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, will introduce his legislation this week along with Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York who serves as Senate minority leader.
The legislation aims to update the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. It would hold employers accountable while also giving workers and communities the notice they need to best prepare for and recover from employer decisions that cost them their jobs, Brown said.
“We’ve had too many cases in Ohio of companies closing down and giving workers barely any notice that they’re losing their jobs,” Brown said. “That’s why I’m joining Sen. Schumer to introduce the Fair Warning Act to hold employers accountable and give workers and communities the notice they need to better prepare for and recover from these layoffs. We cannot accept that the future of work means lower pay, less job security and fewer workplace protections.”
The WARN Act was approved in 1988 by a veto-proof Democratic majority in Congress. It requires employers with 100 or more employees to provide at least 60 days notice of a plant closing or mass layoffs affecting 50 or more employees at a single site of employment.
However, Brown said the WARN Act isn’t strong enough and often allows employers to lay off employees without notice. He cited Falcon Transport in Youngstown and Atlas Industries in Sandusky County as examples of businesses laying off employees without adequate notice.
“Workers deserve better than an email letting them know their livelihood has been taken away,” Brown said.
The Fair Warning Act of 2019 would strengthen the WARN Act in several ways to better protect employees and communities, Brown said.
One change would be in who is considered an employee. The WARN Act requirements do not apply to employers that have fewer than 100 employees, but the proposal from Brown and Schumer would expand the legislation to include any businesses that employ 50 or more employees, including part-time employees, or have an annual payroll of $2 million.
The new legislation would require employers to issue a notice when a layoff affects 10 or more employees at one worksite or 250 or more employees at an employer across multiple sites. It also would require a notice when a site closing affects five or more employees.
Brown’s legislation also would require employers to give 90 days notice to employees who will be affected by layoffs, up from the current 60 day requirement. The Fair Warning Act of 2019 also would require the state to establish a rapid response committee and an individual to lead the committee within 20 days of a WARN notice being issued so affected employees could quickly get the training and other support services they need to prepare for their job loss.
The new legislation also would strengthen enforcement of WARN requirements. It would make employers liable for liquidated damages equal to 30 days of back pay in addition to the back pay and benefits they owe under current law. Also, it would allow employees to bring a lawsuit for WARN violations even if the employer said they should be subjected to mandatory arbitration.
Finally, the Fair Warning Act of 2019 would require the Department of Labor to create and make public a searchable database of all WARN notices to help the public and policymakers track when and where layoffs and business closures occur.
Brown said updates are needed to the WARN ACT because loopholes have grown in the three decades since it was passed.
“We need to do something,” he said. “There continue to be closures so I think it’s time that we move.”
Brown, who was elected to the Senate in 2006, first proposed reforming the WARN Act in 2008. He worked with former Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to push for the Federal Oversight, Reform, and Enforcement of the WARN to strengthen the WARN Act.
Brown, Rep. George Miller, a Democrat from California, and Rep. John McHugh, a Republican from New York, introduced the FOREWARN Act in 2009 to strengthen enforcement of the current law and close loopholes in the WARN Act.
In 2012, Brown reintroduced the FOREWARN Act legislation alongside Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, and and Sen. John Kerry, a Democrat from Massachusetts.
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