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NY WARN Act, five years old, heavily used on LI

Applicants line up at a job fair in

Applicants line up at a job fair in 2009. New York States WARN act which gives workers notice of a layoff has been in effect for five years. Credit: AP

New York's law requiring companies to give employees a heads-up about a mass layoff or closing turned 5 years old earlier this year, and Long Island has accounted for about 13 percent of the 2,326 notices filed statewide since the law took effect.

The state Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act is more stringent than its federal counterpart, which it supersedes, and originally sparked opposition from business groups as yet another regulation to contend with.

For example, the state statute mandates a 90-day notice of a mass layoff or closing, compared with a 60-day requirement under the federal law, which took effect in 1989. And the state Labor Department is empowered to go after violators, while workers' recourse under federal law is private lawsuits.

From Feb. 1, 2009, when the state law took effect, through Sept. 2 of this year, employers statewide have filed 2,326 notices covering 185,217 workers, the Labor Department said. That includes 304 notices filed for Long Island covering 19,933 workers.

The state contends its law improves employees' chances of finding another job before being laid off.

"When a company prepares for staff reductions, WARN drastically increases the chances that they will find a new job," Labor Commissioner Peter M. Rivera said in a statement.

But opinions about the effectiveness of WARN are split.

The Long Island Association, the region's largest business group, said it supports WARN and has received no member complaints about the law.

"It is our position that this type of law was designed to protect our workforce here," said Matthew Cohen, the group's vice president of communications. "We want to make sure our workforce has all the tools it needs to retrain and find new jobs on Long Island."

But a labor union executive said an even stricter law would better ensure the goal of protecting workers.

"We believe it's an important protection, but for the promise to be fulfilled, the law has to be strengthened," said Helen Schaub, a vice president of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.

Among the changes she would like to see is a doubling of the notification period.

"Six months is more reasonable, because that is about how long it takes to find employment," said Schaub, whose Manhattan-based group represents health care workers, including 30,000 on Long Island.

In addition, Schaub, who is also the group's state director for policy and legislation, wants the law changed to make violators liable for 90 days of back wages rather than the 60 days the state law stipulates.

Under the state WARN Act, companies face civil penalties of $500 per day per violation, in addition to as many as 60 days of back wages per employee. The law makes exceptions for extraordinary circumstances like natural disasters or unforeseeable business circumstances.

The state has collected $17,500 in civil penalties and recovered $2.3 million in back wages since the law took effect. One Long Island company paid $1,500 in civil penalties.

One of the largest local WARN notices this year was filed by Remy USA Industries, a Bay Shore automotive-parts manufacturer that is closing in November and laying off 271 workers.

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