I was reading a Texas report on mass layoffs in that state prompted by the coronavirus and sought similar information in Arkansas. The Division of Workforce Services stonewalled me.
The federal WARN ACT requires 60 days notice of a mass layoff, defined as 50 or more employees at a single site for companies with 100 or more employees. The notice requirement can be waived for exceptional circumstances, such as natural disasters. But the notices still must be filed
I asked Workforce Services for any filings such as those reported for individual businesses in Texas by that state’s workforce division. My response:
Due to confidentiality requirements, the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services does not publish or disseminate specific company data. Therefore, we do not issue copies of WARN notices. Pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated 11-10-314, we are required to hold this information confidential, and therefore, are unable to disclose this information to the public.
So, I asked, how about an aggregate report: The number of filings, if any, and the number of employees affected.
My response today from a state lawyer:
We are in receipt of your request for information regarding the number of WARN notices issued and the number of employees affected.
Please be advised that the state of Arkansas does not maintain an aggregate report of WARN data. Therefore, we are not able to provide you with the number of WARN notices issued and the number of employees affected at this time, as we do not currently maintain records that are responsive to your request.
Yes, of course, they could thumb through the reports and add them up, but they refuse to do so. A comment in the review of my request was this from Jay Bassett to various others in the e-mail chain:
I don’t maintain an aggregate WARN report. The vast majority of layoffs/closures are of businesses which don’t meet the WARN threshold and no reports are forthcoming. If a media outlet focused on WARN numbers as indicative of the actual number of layoffs/closures, it would be misleading and not representative.
A state bureaucrat’s guesstimation of how information might be used should not be a factor in evaluating a request for public information. Just as it is irrelevant every time a public official asks someone “why” they want information.
Of course, there are many more employers affected by the virus than large employers. But the WARN notices in Texas provided some insight into differences among employers and also gave some light on places where pockets of impact were likely to be worse than others.
Your transformed government at work. This agency his headed by the same guy who got the big bonuses for landing Chinese factories that aren’t coming to Arkansas and which is coming under fire for its handling of the crush of unemployment claims. As it happens, Forrest City and Arkadelphia might be glad the promised influx of Chinese business managers didn’t arrive.
PS: There is another way to check for WARN notices, through county judges. In Pulaski, County Judge Barry Hyde didn’t object to answering the question. But he said he’d received no such notices as yet.