It’s been a rough 2019 for many workers in Philadelphia, with several major employers closing with little or no warning. Back in late June of 2019, members of District 1199C at Hahnemann University Hospital received shocking news: the corporate owners of the hospital planned to abruptly close down the facility. This put over 2,500 people out of work, including 700 members from our union.
State law requires 60-day notice for any hospital closure, but that clearly wasn’t enough time. Workers, families, and communities need more notice to prepare for the devastating impact of the closure of a major employer. That’s why District 1199C and a growing coalition of organizations support changing state law to expand the notice time from 60 days to 180 days.
There is a federal law already in place, but it’s just not enough. The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act was passed more than three decades ago and is clearly outdated for the modern economy. The WARN Act only guarantees most workers a 60-day notice of plant closings of more than 50 employees or mass layoffs of more than 500 employees. It simply does not do enough to protect workers in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia.
Expanding this timeline to 180 days provides greater opportunity for these employees to properly prepare for unemployment, relocation, or other significant changes that affect both the workers and their families. It also allows communities more time to plan for shortfalls and increase services to adequately address the unexpected needs of suddenly unemployed workers.
The need for this legislation is clear. Pennsylvania has seen significant employer closures and large layoffs in just the last few months. In June, the sudden closure of the Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil refinery following a fire cost nearly 700 hourly union workers and thousands of contractors their jobs. Only a few days later, Hahnemann announced that it would also be closing.
That doesn’t include more than 500 who lost work when UPMC Pinnacle Lancaster Hospital closed in March. Or more than 900 who were left unemployed when Wood-Mode, Inc in Snyder County abruptly closed in June. Inevitably, many factors impact the job market; but what we are seeing now it the cumulation of economic, environmental, and situational factors that leave workers behind, local governments with the bill, and communities in disarray.
Job loss casts a dark shadow over individuals, their families, and communities. A layoff can have serious economic consequences, the most obvious of which is the loss of steady income. Though many are eligible for unemployment benefits as they search for another job, those benefits eventually expire and do not fully replace lost wages. Many workers who have worked for a single employer for decades find that they have a set of unique and specialized skills that cannot be easily transferred to another job, even in the same industry. Individual and family health benefits, retirement funds, and long-term wealth all take a substantial –oftentimes irreversible– hit.
Unemployment can increase tensions and hopelessness both at home and in the community. Children are more likely to struggle in the classroom, creating ripple effects that are difficult to overcome. This legislation is beneficial to more than just employees who are facing layoffs. Unemployment also impacts tax revenues, reducing income and sales tax collection. This can lead to revenue shortfalls for state and local government. Increasing the notice period for closures will allow for government administrators to make necessary adjustments to maintain funding for critical services.
All of these consequences are serious, but as with many things, the way layoffs and closings are handled can make a significant difference in how workers and communities prepare for these obstacles ahead. The real problem arises is with sudden, large-scale job losses, where hundreds of workers are suddenly laid off with little more than a few weeks’ notice. The impact can have catastrophic effects on workers, families, and communities.
I strongly urge Pennsylvania lawmakers to consider passing legislation to enact a state-level WARN Act to protect hard working Pennsylvanians. Unemployment is not a partisan issue. Every single member of the General Assembly has constituents that deserve the time and dignity this legislation helps to provide. If we want to keep the economy going strong and continue to make great strides as a nation, we must stand behind the workers. Let’s make Pennsylvania a leader in the fight for worker rights.