UAW-GM deal highlights need for policies to help displaced workers
Posted October 25, 2019 in Press Releases
The agreement reached today between General Motors and 48,000 United Autoworkers who have been on strike since September 15th will make some workers’ jobs more secure. It is now time for the state to invest in the working families GM left behind. The UAW strike pushed GM to finally reform its use of long-term temp workers. Under the new contract terms, these workers will be moved into permanent hire status. Through the strike GM workers also secured a slate of economic gains. Yet Lordstown, and transmission plants in Warren, Michigan, and Baltimore, Maryland will remain closed. The Hamtramck plant, in Detroit, will stay open and receive a new line of electric trucks.
Making temporary hires permanent is a big step toward making those workers more secure, a long-standing goal of the union. Yet Lordstown workers and the Youngstown region face an uncertain future. Ohio must take steps to protect both workers and communities from the devastating consequences of mass layoffs:
Use the Art Modell Law to extend worker notice and require severance pay
The federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notice (WARN) Act requires Ohio firms to notify staff and the Department of Job and Family Services of large-scale lay-offs and plant closures. Lordstown complied with WARN – though at least one of its suppliers did not. The federal WARN Act requires just 60 days’ notice, and does not provide severance pay. An Ohio law requires professional sports teams to provide at least six months’ notice of intent to move, and gives local residents an opportunity to buy the team. Ohio’s Art Modell law helped save the Columbus Crew soccer team. Ohio policymakers should extend these notice protections to cover any company receiving economic development incentives. Early notice gives all stakeholders a better chance to manage a mass layoff. That means more time to create layoff aversion plans; assess buyout options, including the potential for employee ownership; and prioritize emergency community needs like protecting funding against a dwindling tax base. When they abandon the workers and communities that have made them great, companies that have benefited from tax incentives, abatements, and other public supports should also be mandated to provide severance pay for displaced workers. Including such payments and strengthening existing notice requirements can help mitigate some of the damage caused by mass layoffs.
Provide training opportunities to displaced workers
Retraining will not solve all the problems faced by a community devastated by a mass layoff and now facing a contracted job market, but it is essential to helping families find a new future for themselves in a changing economy and maintaining an adaptable workforce. Ohio legislators could do more to make high quality training available to displaced workers.
Provide free college to community members affected by the plant closure. Eastern Gateway Community College has stepped up to provide training from a career credential to a transferrable Associate’s Degree to any Mahoning Valley resident who can show they’ve been harmed by the idling of Lordstown. The state could provide free tuition at community colleges for displaced workers. Currently, the state does not allow students attending community colleges and branch campuses to receive state need based aid. Ohio should fully restore access to the Ohio College Opportunity Grant so Ohio resident can earn a credential at a public community college.
Protect displaced workers from predatory for-profit training providers. Lordstown workers and their family members are prime targets for predatory, for-profit schools that promise brighter futures, but rarely deliver anything other than student debt. The state should be making it harder for these schools to operate. Rapid response and other workforce development activities that help workers assess their next steps should include information about student debt and for-profit schools, as well as information on financial assistance including that available to the Lordstown workers through federal Trade Adjustment Assistance and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. These programs as well as OCOG should be designed to steer displaced workers to qualified training providers and away from high-cost, high-debt providers.
Policymakers need to be purposeful about protecting workers and the communities they live in. More accountability for employers, and more supports for displaced workers can help.