Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Congress Re-Evaluates 1988 Plant Closing Notification Law

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Congress Re-Evaluates 1988 Plant Closing Notification Law

Article excerpt

The Kansas City Star

WASHINGTON _ Early one workday morning, William Tomko was called into a meeting. His employer, a Pittsburgh air freight terminal, announced it was closing.

Losing his job was difficult enough, Tomko testified three years later, but the worst thing was that the company ignored a federal requirement of a 60-day notice. His warning? Twenty minutes.

"There are just too many workers falling between the cracks," Tomko said, assessing the 1988 notification law.

Stories like Tomko's are about to be revived as Congress revisits one of the most acrid labor-management disputes of the last decade _ legislation on plant closings.

Unhappy with compromises made in 1988, supporters of a wider law hope they have found friendlier times in which to expand the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.

"Corporations know darn well when they are going to shut a plant down," said Jerry Meszaros, coordinator of the Religion and Labor Council of Kansas City, who wants reform. "It's part of their strategic planning. Sixty days is inadequate notice."

Business interests, on the other hand, are conferring on how to keep the law as written.

"It seems to have worked relatively well," said Pete Lunnie, a senior policy adviser for the National Association of Manufacturers. "My sense is that we wouldn't be real pleased with any of these changes."

Larger companies have complied conscientiously with the law, despite the burden of keeping employees on the payroll for 60 days, said Dan Yager at the Labor Policy Association, a Washington study group for large corporations.

"There's no question it has been a very expensive act for companies," he said. "And there's no question that there is overcompliance among larger employers."

President Ronald Reagan vetoed the act once. It then became law without his signature.

In general, it requires companies with 100 or more workers to provide a 60-day notice of permanent plant closings or mass layoffs. Fair warning would give workers time to plan and help communities minimize the damage, advocates argued.

Employers with fewer than 100 workers are not required to give notice. Companies with 100 or more workers may be exempt in certain instances.

Also exempt are layoffs affecting 50 or more full-time workers (up to 500 workers) that do not affect one-third of the employer's work force at the layoff location. For instance, a business with 1,500 employees that lays off 499 would not be subject to a notice, but a business with 150 workers that lays off 50 must comply.

In Missouri, the demise of several shoe plants has been accompanied by closing notices, but in 1991 when General Dynamics Corp. laid off more than 1,000 workers building the A-12 attack jet, workers did not get the 60-day notice.

After the workers' union sued, a St. …

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