Congress enacted the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act to require workers to receive 60-days advance notice when they are facing mass layoffs. This is an essential protection for workers, families & communities that enables state and local governments to help laid-off employees find new jobs, and gives workers time to retrain, apply for new jobs, and adjust their financial circumstances before losing income.
In March 2020, U.S. Well Services laid off many of its employees without providing any notice. Workers brought suit, but a district court accepted the company’s flawed legal position that, because of COVID-19, the “natural disaster” exception to the WARN act applied, thereby relieving U.S. Well Services of its obligation to provide any advance notice. The workers appealed the court’s decision to the Fifth Circuit.
On October 6th, 2021, we filed a brief on behalf of leading unions urging the Fifth Circuit to reject the lower court’s incorrect interpretation of the WARN Act — a reading that undermines Congress’s intent to protect workers. Our brief was filed on behalf of leading unions, including the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and the American Federation of State, and the County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
As detailed in the brief, the “natural disaster” exception to the WARN Act requires employers to demonstrate that a mass layoff is a direct result of a natural disaster. U.S. Well Services’ layoffs were not. In cases like this, where a layoff is caused by an economic downturn, the WARN Act requires employers to provide workers as much advance notice as possible.
“Advance notice benefits workers’ economic security and mental health and helps promote communities’ stability in the face of mass layoffs,” stated Democracy Forward President and CEO Skye Perryman. “We’re honored to represent leading unions in urging the court to reject an incorrect interpretation of the WARN Act’s requirements that will deny workers advance notice of layoffs—hurting them, their families, and their communities,” she continued.
Indeed, the promise of democracy includes economic security, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, when millions have lost jobs. At Democracy Forward, we will continue to fight for teachers, workers, and others who form the backbone of our country in the years to come.