NEW YORK, Dec. 10 /PRNewswire/ -- As the Chicago workers' sit-in shifted national attention to the plight of laid-off workers, the conflict also shows that millions of non-union employees face a nightmarish loss of health coverage benefits in layoffs and should know their legal rights, according to the national employee rights law firm of Outten & Golden LLP.
According to Jack A. Raisner, a partner in the New York office of Outten & Golden LLP which represents employees throughout the nation in pending layoff-related litigation, "The Chicago sit-in should be a wake-up call to the 88 percent of employees nationally who are not union members and depend on their employers alone for their health coverage."
Raisner points to the dire medical crises facing hundreds of laid-off employees from Archway Cookies and Mother's Cookies who were profiled last week in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times as proof of his point.
"In a sense," Raisner says, "the Chicago employees are the lucky ones. When most of the rest of us lose our jobs in a company shut down or bankruptcy, we don't have a safety net of a union to turn to when it comes to health insurance. That's the situation for thousands of employees of bankrupt companies such as Archway and Mother's Cookies, national car dealer Bill Heard Enterprises, and trucking company Jevic Transportation. Millions more may be stricken by the combination of job and insurance loss as bankruptcies and layoffs soar."
Outten & Golden is pursuing WARN Act claims on behalf of at least 25 groups of laid-off or terminated employees from around the nation. René S. Roupinian, who co-chairs Outten & Golden LLP's WARN Act group (http://www.warnlawyers.com/), urges employees to investigate whether they might be covered by the WARN Act, which provides eligible employees who receive less than 60 days' termination notice back pay and benefits which include medical expenses expended due to lack of health insurance during the notice period.
"Many do not realize that when an employer goes out of business, they usually terminate their health insurance plans," Roupinian says. "If a company files for bankruptcy, that is almost certain to happen. Employees cannot even pay to continue that coverage on their own. They are often let go with no insurance to pay for necessary prescriptions and recently obtained medical procedures for themselves and their families."
Like the protesting Chicago workers, American employees who are let go suddenly in mass layoffs and shutdowns may have the right to 60 days advance written notice under the WARN Act, Raisner and Roupinian say.
Looking ahead, they hope that Congress will extend the notice period to 90 days in a strengthened version of a law called FOREWARN. Passed by the House of Representatives in 2007, the Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-New York) and President-Elect Barack Obama, has stalled.
Raisner says that reforming the WARN Act should be a priority of the new administration. "Congress is helping Wall Street banks, the automotive industry and others, but those truly worthy of assistance are the American workers."
A strengthened WARN Act would prevent workers reeling from a plant shutdown from falling into a medical coverage abyss. Raisner says, "Today that's not happening. Employees are skimping, not getting medical help, not taking their medications out of fear of running out. Employees should not have to sue under the WARN Act or wait until health care reforms are enacted to address this worsening national issue. The sad reality is, some laid-off workers, those with the most challenging health conditions, will not make it if Congress does not act fast."
About Outten & Golden LLP
With offices in New York and Stamford, Conn., Outten & Golden LLP is one of the nation's preeminent law firms representing employees. O&G represents employees with a wide variety of claims in federal and state courts as well as in mediation and arbitration proceedings. The firm's eight practice groups are Executives & Professionals, Securities & Financial Services Industry, Sexual Harassment, Disability & Family Responsibilities, LGBT Workplace Rights, Discrimination & Retaliation, Class Actions, and WARN. More information about the firm is available at http://www.outtengolden.com/.Attorney Contacts: Jack A. Raisner or René S. Roupinian, Outten & Golden LLP, New York, 212.245.1000, http://www.outtengolden.com/.