WARN. Warning, Warning, Will Robinson. Warning! Danger Ahead! How many signs do we need? The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) was put in place back in the ‘90’s. Its mission was to force companies with more than 100 employees to let those employees know when the business knew that circumstances would make it likely that a massive layoff was about to occur.
60 days before the layoff, the company was required to send out notifications to its employees, salaried and hourly, their union reps, the states, anybody who might be impacted by lots of people suddenly out of work.
It is not in the best interests of the companies to send out the notifications. It is for the benefit of the employees, so that they could begin to make arrangements before a lot of people looking for the same kind of work ended up in the unemployment line together.
One voice, one man called the act shameful (I don’t know what his words actually were; I’m engaging in artistic license here). Not because it put a burden on corporations. No. Not because it put a burden on states to ramp up their services for retraining people and getting them back to work. No. Not because a premature trigger of the notification would cause anxiety and distress to the workers. No.
That man wanted the deadline for the notifications to be moved back. To 90 days before layoffs. To allow more time for preparation, even though a 90 day interim left more time for circumstances to change, more time for the layoffs to not become certain. That man was the junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama.
I’m WARNing you. So now Mr. Obama is President of the United States of America, running for re-election. He’s had a bit of a problem, has Mr. Obama, in getting a recalcitrant Congress to abide by his wishes. In fact, the Congress has been so stubborn that, instead of reducing the size of the budget piecemeal, instead of trimming spending with a carefully wielded scalpel, the budget for both the military and entitlement programs are due to be beheaded with an ax. And that ax will fall on January 2, 2013. Estimates are that the ax will affect up to 1,000,000 workers.
Understandably, defense contractors are nervous. In the past two years, Congress has only been able to act on an emergency basis, and only in bits and pieces. The whole reason for the ax falling is that, when they couldn’t come to an agreement, they agreed with the President that they would impose a massive, across-the-board cut so scary that they would have to do something about the spending to avoid that ax strike. Then…they did nothing. Ooops. Oh, well, I guess we wait for the ax to fall.
In the meantime, as I said, the defense contractors are nervous. If they know that layoffs are likely, they must WARN their employees. If they don’t, they face up to $500 per day per employee fines. With 1,000,000 jobs potentially on the line, that might add up to a pretty penny. Having a good idea that January 2, 2013 would be a red-letter day of some kind, they backed up 60 days, and came up with November 2, 2012. That was the day the notices must go out. So, they fired up their printers. EXCEPT—
(Just a coincidence, I’m sure that the election is to be held November 6, 2012. Just 4 days after the date the notifications are to be received by up to 1,000,000 employees. Who vote.)
I’m WARNing you. That bastion of the worker, that champion of the everyman, President Obama, said No. No, defense contractors, don’t send out the notices. No, don’t warn your employees that they might be out of work right after Christmas. That might upset them. No, don’t alert the states. They’ll just be wasting resources getting their retraining offices up and running. We don’t want to make people nervous.
He had his people send out a “guidance” memo to that effect to the contractors back in July, 2012. The WARN Act doesn’t mean this. It doesn’t apply when it’s only Congress holding up the show. The WARN Act was meant for something else entirely.
The defense contractors balked. The law requires us to send out the notifications, or we face massive penalties.
So President Obama had his people send out another notice. Don’t worry. If you don’t send out the notices, and the layoffs happen, we’ll pick up the bill. ‘Scuse me, Mr. Obama? I have a few questions for you. Turns out, a couple of senators do, too.
Senator Charles Grassley and Senator Kelly Ayotte, both Republicans, sent Mr. Obama’s people a letter. I will paraphrase:
Where does the federal government get off advising defense contractors on when the WARN Act does or does not apply?
Where does the federal government get off promising that the taxpayers will foot the bill if the feds are wrong and workers are laid off?
The senators didn’t ask, but I’d like to know how not sending out the notification can possibly be helpful to the affected workers. They must know already that this is coming down the pike; wouldn’t it be nice if the states were set to gear up to help them? Wouldn’t it be nice if the employees had a little warning so they could go easy on the Christmas goodies?
But I’m leaving something out. It’s only for 4 days. Or 5, if you wait till the results are in. What the heck. Less than a week. Then the defense contractors can notify all they want. After all, there’s not much difference between 55 days and 90, for the man who truly cares about the little people.
I’m WARNing you. If President Obama is this willing to ignore the law now, to twist it to his own ends, even against the best interests of the middle class, those people he’s so willing to fight for when it won’t inconvenience him, where will he set the limit when he no longer has to answer to anyone?