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Discussion Paper

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Workers facing plant closing and permanent or long-term layoffs now have a little more legal protection to give them some time to plan for retraining and to look for new jobs.

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act provides for 60 days advance notice to certain workers affected by a plant closing or mass layoff. This law was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1988 after having been sought for many years by unions and other workers' rights advocates.

Vigorous action by the labor movement and strong public support led to passage of the WARN Act in spite of strong employer and corporate opposition. The WARN Act is, unfortunately, not as strong as was originally proposed. It reflects compromises made by Congressional supporters. Yet it does contain significant assurances for certain workers to get advance notice so they can better plan for their working futures. It also represents a starting point for effectively fighting for stronger legal rights for working people.

Under the WARN Act, employers who do not comply with the law's provisions may be taken to court by the workers or their Union representatives. (The U.S. Department of Labor has no authority to enforce WARN, but only to issue regulations, so the only enforcement remedy is through the filing of such lawsuits.)

Despite the significant strides made by the passage of the WARN Act, there are still many loopholes and ambiguities in the law as it now exists. It is that much more important, therefore, that people be aware of their rights under this law, so that the necessary changes can be made in it.

WARN can help workers and their unions mitigate the disastrous effects of a plant closing or mass layoff. WARN also calls for workers to get direct financial compensation, in the form of money damages, attorneys fees and costs, if an employer is found in violation.

Here are some useful facts about the WARN Act which highlight the most important aspects of the law. For more information, it is important to consult with: the National Lawyers Guild/Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice, in Detroit, at (313) 962-6540; or the Federation for Industrial Retention & Renewal (FIRR), in Chicago, at (312) 252-7676.


Reproduced with permission. Professor Santacroce compiled, edited and indexed material for this section from 1997-2003