When the Tampa Bay Times purchased and closed the Tampa Tribune on May 3rd, the Times gave different statements of facts to government agencies in required filings. The statements made to government agencies also differed from what the Times told those who they laid off.
This is our second article chronicling the Times’ bungled closing of the Tribune (our first article is here). Independent journalist Jim Bleyer, the author of our first article, recently wrote a follow-up article in a another publication. In that article, attorneys confirm that the federal WARN Act was violated in these layoffs. Our second article provides further context and evidence that the Times’ really blew it….and how it might cost them.
“All of the required information was not included”, wrote Erin Gillespie, the Director of Communications at the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (FL DEO), Gillespie was speaking of the federally mandated WARN Act notice that the Times gave to FL DEO. In amending their WARN notice, Times HR Director Sebastian Dortch painted it simply a response to a “few questions” from FL DEO (see his e-mail below).
In fact, the information provided in Dortch’s e-mail are required parts of the WARN notice. The requirements are clearly spelled out in the US Department of Labor’s WARN notice guides for employers and workers alike.
As far as the State of Florida is concerned, the WARN notice date is May 6th, not May 3rd as the Times has asserted to Tribune employees. That 3-day difference alone could cost the Times upwards $100,000. The more important question is: has the City of Tampa and the employees been given the legally sufficient WARN Act notice? If not, then what are the legal ramifications?
Once apprised of their erroneous WARN notice to FL DOE, attorneys handling WARN compliance for the Times’ should have amended the required notice that they gave to the City of Tampa and to employees. That did not happen. Our public records request to the City of Tampa shows that “Mayor’s Office has not received amendments, clarifications or alterations to the WARN Act Notice from Tampa Media Group dated May 3, 2016.”
We asked Tampa Bay Times CEO Paul Tash (pictured right) and the Times’s Communications Director why the Times had not filed an amended notice with the City of Tampa, whether a corrected notice has been spent to employees and what the notice date was in their opinion. We received no response.
We asked Conchita Tilson, spokesperson for Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, whether the city is of the opinion that is has received legally sufficient notice under the WARN Act. Tilton passed our inquiry on to Public Affairs Director Ashley Bauman, who did not respond.
On the same day that Times CEO Paul Tash told Tribune employees that the job losses were “likely to be at least 100”, the Times sent a certified letter to Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn saying that “all employees” would their jobs within the next 60 day. The Tribune had 265 employees.
Rachel Berryman, a US Department of Labor analyst, told the Guardian that the “intent of the WARN Act is that workers will receive 60 days’ notice before a plant closing or mass layoff. That means that the intent is that workers will continue working and being paid during that 60 day period. While the WARN Act doesn’t address this, several WARN guides do.” By sending workers home the same day, the Times did not adhere to the intent of the WARN Act.
The US Department of Labor’s position is in stark contrast to how the Times handled matters when they purchased the Tribune on May 3rd. Berryman said that the Times’ “approach may make it difficult for workers to receive Rapid Response assistance that is usually carried out at the work site.” No Rapid Response assistance from the State was available on-site because it didn’t receive notice from the Times until three days after untold numbers of Tribune employees had been sent home for good.
June 3rd is the one-month anniversary of the bungled closing of the Tribune. Should a class-action lawsuit be brought on behalf of the laid off employees, we will of course report on it.
As always, the Guardian reports and the readers decide.