— by Tom Rask and Jim Bleyer–
By firing more than 100 workers with no notice Tuesday in its acquisition of the Tampa Tribune, the Tampa Bay Times violated federal law. The Times could be liable for damages totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not into the millions.
None of the Tribune’s 265 employees received the required 60 days notice under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act. In announcing the acquisition, Times CEO Paul Tash said at least 100 former Trib workers would be laid off.
Those who were laid off received this notice, which was also mailed to their homes. However, Rachel Berryman, a US Department of Labor analyst, told the Guardian that giving the cashiered employees 60 days severance pay but no advance notice of a layoff still constituted a violation of the WARN Act. She said that in such cases, the DOL, which does not have enforcement authority, encourages the wronged workers to file a class action lawsuit in federal district court. The damages, Berryman explained, could reach an additional 60 days pay for each employee laid off.
Trib employees were rounded up, handed three-page notices and their exits off the property were assured under the watchful eyes of a security force.
A public records request made to Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s office found that no Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act notice was received by the City of Tampa. Federal law requires that WARN notices be given in advance to “the chief elected official of the local government where the closing or mass layoff is to occur” when companies with more than 100 employees lay off at least 50 people. That requirement applies in this case. An employer who fails to provide notice to a unit of local government is subject to a civil penalty not to exceed $500 for each day of violation.
Notice must also be given to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. The 2016 WARN notices on the Department’s website does NOT display the Tampa Tribune layoffs by the Tampa Bay Times, and such advance notice to the State of Florida is required by federal law.
It is expected that all but a handful employees will not continue with the Times in which case damages could easily total in excess of $2 million.
Another official in the US Department of Labor WARN Act section said that none of the act’s exceptions appeared to apply to the Tribune layoffs. Those exceptions include:
- Strikers, or workers who have been locked out in a labor dispute.
- Workers working on temporary projects or facilities of the business who clearly understand the temporary nature of the work when hired.
- Business partners, consultants, or contract employees assigned to the business but who have a separate employment relationship with another employer and are paid by that other employer, or who are self-employed; and
- Regular federal, state, and local government employees.
A longtime newsroom staffer of the Tribune said that employees were called to the auditorium at 3 P.M. yesterday. There was a slight gasp in the room when Tash was introduced. Security was present, and the employees were divided into groups as they could see moving boxes being carried in to the building through the auditorium window. The former newsroom staffer went on to say the Times would have been “digging up information and shaking their first at these kinds of layoffs if another company had carried them out in the same fashion.”
The laid off employees were given a three-page Q&A handout with a cover letter. The letter stated that “Times Publishing Company has purchased the Tampa Media Group and all its holdings, including The Tampa Tribune.” However, no mention was made in package of so-called “bumping rights” according to laid off employees. The US Department of Labor Handbook on the WARN Act (page 12) states that the notice “must contain at a minimum….an indication whether or not bumping rights exist”.
The Times Publishing Company purchased the Tampa Tribune from Revolution Capital Group on May 3rd, 2016, but the parties reportedly entered into a contract for the purchase several months ago.
The US Department of Labor (US DOL) says that it “provides assistance in understanding the regulations”, which raises the question whether the Times did seek such free assistance. Or did they just do as they pleased in ending the livelihood of well over 100 people? That would be, as noted above by the Tribune newsrooms staffer, the kind of behavior that the Times would have harshly criticized had any other corporation done the same.