GOP lawmakers to contractors: Defy Labor Dept., warn employees of sequestration layoffs

Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif. Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Republican lawmakers have taken issue with an Obama administration memorandum, arguing the Labor Department’s advisement to defense contractors not to warn employees of potential layoffs due to sequestration is a violation of federal law.

The memo, sent out last week, said the layoffs -- due to across-the-board cuts scheduled to take place Jan. 2, 2013,  -- are excepted by the Worker Adjustment Retraining Notification Act. The WARN Act requires large companies to provide notice to employees 60 days prior to mass layoffs.

“The WARN Act is designed to require employers to provide notice to those employees who are reasonably likely to lose their jobs, or suffer other serious employment consequences,” Jane Oates, Labor’s assistant secretary, wrote in the memo, “but not to those workers who suffer no such consequences or only have a speculative chance of suffering them.”

Republicans argued the guidance is simply campaign politics, Politico reported, as 60 days before the scheduled cuts would be Nov. 2, just four days before the presidential election.

The memo is “not worth the paper it’s printed on,” said Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, during an Armed Services Committee hearing last week.

The chairman of that committee, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said the advisement will not hold up in court.

“To think that one of the agencies of the Obama administration would give guidance not to follow the law of the land -- a judge would laugh at that,” McKeon said.

Democrats disagreed, saying the WARN Act language was clearly on their side.

“This is an important and correct interpretation of the law,” said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the committee’s ranking member. “There is no reason to needlessly alarm hundreds of thousands of workers when there is no way to know what will happen with sequestration.”

In defending their stance, Democrats and the Labor Department pointed to a part of the law that discourages “overbroad notice” and a provision that lists “unforeseeable business circumstances” as an exclusion to the WARN Act.

Lockheed Martin Corp., the nation’s largest defense contractor, had planned to send notices as required by the WARN Act to nearly all its 100,000 employees, although it would ultimately only lay off 10,000, according to Politico. It now is planning to review its options in light of the Labor memo.

Republicans from the Committee on Education and the Workforce have requested all “information, documents and communications” related to the guidance from the Labor Department. 

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