HILARY NILES, VTDigger.org
Just as IBM is reportedly planning another round of layoffs at its plant in Essex Junction, Labor Commissioner Annie Noonan is calling for better notice and more authority over such "workplace actions."
The federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, known as the WARN Act, is not "right-sized" for Vermont, Noonan told the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development on Wednesday afternoon.
She said it only applies to businesses that are relatively large by Vermont’s standards, and even then it doesn’t afford enough time for an effective response.
Little is known at this time about pending layoffs from IBM. The Burlington Free Press reported Wednesday that the employees to be let go have already been selected and will be notified Feb. 26. The report cites information from the Alliance@IBM, an unofficial union for the global tech giant’s at-will employees, which in turn cited unnamed sources inside the company.
The state WARN Act, as proposed in H.758, would require businesses with 20 or more employees to give at least 90 days notice before a layoff, and to provide information about the reduction to the state and the affected workers.
Some exceptions to the 90-day notice would apply in the case of natural disasters, strikes or lockouts that precipitate a closure. The notice could be reduced to 60 days if an employer is "in good faith" trying to secure needed capital to save the jobs.
Companies would be required to provide information to the state that identifies the individuals being laid off, their job titles and workplaces, compensation information and other details. The Labor commissioner would be granted subpoena power in the event that a business was not forthcoming.
"We’re not trying to hurt anybody. We’re not trying to share trade secrets," Noonan said. But for regional economic planning, she said, it’s essential to know the locations at which layoffs are occurring.
The wage information will also help the state anticipate pressure on the state’s Unemployment Trust Fund, from which jobless benefits are paid.
The bill also lays out penalties for noncompliance: back pay for aggrieved employees and civil penalties capped at $5,000 per employee.