Senate panel goes through the motions on WARN Act



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If there were any public opposition to loosening New Hampshire's WARN Act, it did not make itself known Tuesday in testimony before the House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee -- unless you count the Democrats on the committee.Senate Bill 121 would amend the state's Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act so certain employers would no longer have to issue a warning to workers before shutting a facility down or laying off large numbers of employees.Under the federal WARN Act, those companies that employ more than 100 must issue a warning, but two years ago the state Legislature passed a law lowering the threshold to 75 workers and attempted to put some teeth in the law. Those teeth may not be very sharp, as evidenced by the state Department of Labor's futile attempt to enforce it after BrandPartners Group, which shut down suddenly, leaving 80 workers scrambling for jobs. But teeth aren't the issue. The threshold is. New Hampshire's threshold is not only lower than federal law, but it's lower than other states' WARN Acts as well. And that is what has ticked off business groups, including the Greater Nashua and Manchester chambers of commerce.Employers have a checklist, testified Nashua chamber president Chris Williams. States are rated in terms of their regulatory environment, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has "docked" New Hampshire because of its tougher threshold.As expected, Democrats made it clear that they were not fond of the idea."Do we want companies that are willing to close their door without notice, whether it be 50 employees or 75 or 99?" asked Rep. Chuck Weed, D-Keene."No, but we do want companies that would have gone to Maine or Vermont," Williams said.Out of all the hundreds of regulations, Weed said, would such a small check really make such a difference?"Absolutely," replied Mike Skelton, representing the Manchester chamber.A few Republicans however, such as Rep. Thomas Laware, R-Charlestown, expressed skepticism that a company would make a decision on where to locate based on whether they had to give notice to workers before shutting down."These companies close their door, no phone numbers -- nothing. I've heard of one place closed on Christmas Eve. Shouldn't we be just as concerned about employees as about businesses?" asked Rep. Jeffrey Goley, D-Manchester, of the bill's sponsor, Sen. James Luther, R-Hollis."Jobs comes from business," Luther said, "This is an economic competitiveness issue." -- BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW Edit ModuleShow Tags