LETTER TO THE EDITOR: When a law is not a law

By The West Virginia Record | Aug 8, 2012

Dear Editor:

Just because a law is on the books doesn't necessarily mean it has to be followed. Look at the circus surrounding West Virginia's public finance system.

Regardless of what one may think of it, the law is being ignored because of the political reality. Democrats in the legislature passed the law because a Republican candidate seemingly benefitted from a deep-pocketed independent expenditure campaign in a 2004 statewide judicial race.

Now that a Republican judicial candidate is seeking to take advantage of that Democratic Party-backed law, that same Democratic establishment is throwing up every legal roadblock available to stymie release of those public funds. "Oh, we have to follow that law? Really?"

Arizona passed an anti-immigration law because it felt the federal law was not being enforced. If Washington will turn a blind eye to its own law the Grand Canyon State will take matters into its own hands.

Now West Virginia, and other states for that matter, may have to pass a law of its own because a federal statute is being skirted by the Obama administration.

The WARN Act – for Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification – was passed in 1988 requiring federal contractors to give a two month heads-up to its workforce in anticipation of layoffs. With the federal budget stalemated many in the defense sector, for example, anticipate sending such notices to scores of workers given the uncertainty that military projects could be dismantled by the budget axe. With check-writing from the Treasury to perhaps screech to halt January 1, these notices should arrive in laborers' mailboxes about November 1.

What an inconvenient happenstance under the federal law. Why, that is just a week before the presidential election. The tens of thousands of recipients of those WARN notices could be crucial to the outcome.

That certainly explains why U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis posted recently to her department's website an ambiguous insinuation that employers may essentially ignore the WARN Act this autumn political season. Really? Is the law that malleable?

As with West Virginia's public finance law, the selective application of the law – state or federal – makes a mockery of our legal system. And those job losses could well impact West Virginia workers too where aluminum production in Ravenswood supplies parts to the F-35 aircraft, a program deemed vital to U.S. national security interests. Surely Senator Joe Manchin, a member of the Armed Services Committee, is outraged by political shenanigans emanating from the labor secretary's office.

So Jackson County employers who take the Solis advisory to heart and ignore the law could well find themselves subsequently skewered in the courts should they restrain from giving their workers advance notification of layoffs, but then have to deliver pink slips when Washington cannot get its act together by the first of the year.

What good are laws in the first place if they are to be disregarded on a political whim?

Frank S. Hewes

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