Senators John Kerry and Edward Kennedy today, along with Congressmen James McGovern urged Elaine Chao, Secretary of Labor to investigate whether Quaker Fabric violated the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) by not providing at least 60 days notice to its employees. Earlier this month, the Fall River manufacturing plant abruptly closed its doors prior to notifying its 900 employees.
Kerry, Kennedy and McGovern have also urged the Department of Labor to provide federal assistance to the employees affected by the layoffs.
Kerry today also announced he would co-sponsor the FOREWARN Act of 2007, which requires a 90-day notification of plant closings. The legislation also allows employees to seek double back-pay and authorizes the Department of Labor to bring suits against businesses that violate the WARN Act.
"I am deeply concerned about Quaker Fabric's decision not to give its 900 employees any advance notice before closing its plant. I'm also disturbed by Quaker's decision to terminate health benefits and severance packages. Had the company given some advance notice its workers would have at least been able to start looking for other jobs. Instead, they are out in the cold," said Senator Kerry. "I strongly urge Secretary Chao to take a good, hard look at the way this closing was handled. It's imperative that we collect all the facts to determine whether Quaker violated the WARN Act so that its workers can decide whether to seek compensation."
"Layoffs of this scale can be devastating for workers' families and for communities like Fall River. The effects are even harsher when companies fail to provide the notice required by the law. I urge the Department of Labor to do everything it can to assist these workers --- including getting all the facts and finding out if Quaker did not fulfill its obligations," said Senator Kennedy.
"When I visited with Quaker Fabric workers this morning, I made it clear that I would do everything possible to ensure adequate federal help," Rep. McGovern said. "I hope the Labor Department will look closely at this situation."
The text of the letter is as follows:
July 23, 2007
The Honorable Elaine Chao
Department of Labor
200 Constitution Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20210
Dear Secretary Chao:
We are writing to request your assistance in determining whether Quaker Fabrics of Fall River, Massachusetts, violated federal law when it abruptly closed its manufacturing plant without having previously notified its 900 employees.
As you know, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) requires businesses that employ 100 or more workers to provide at least 60 days advance notice prior to closing a plant. Quaker did not provide its workers any advance notice of the decision to close its plant. Two days after its workers were notified, Quaker released a WARN Act notice claiming a "faltering business" exemption which would absolve it of the advance notification requirement.
We understand that the WARN Act exemption for "faltering businesses" is applicable so as long as a business believes in good faith that providing advance notice of a plant closing would compromise its ability to secure capital. However, the dearth of information available regarding Quaker's decision to close its plant makes it is impossible to know whether its exemption claim is legitimate. It is imperative that its workers gain access to this information so that they can decide whether to seek back pay and benefits which is their right under the law. This is especially important given that Quaker has terminated worker health benefits and severance packages.
As you can imagine, Quaker's employees were stunned at the news of the plant closing and angry that they were not given any time to find another job. We owe it to them not only to provide financial and occupational training assistance during their transition but to hold their employer accountable they did not follow the law. We therefore urge you to take all appropriate steps to provide assistance to the affected workers, including helping them understand their rights under the WARN Act and the strict limitations imposed on employers attempting to claim an exemption under the Act. Furthermore, we request your assistance in gathering evidence and facts relating to the Quaker plant closing which would allow the affected employees to determine whether the WARN Act was violated.
We thank you for your attention to this matter.