The Edmond Sun

October 5, 2012

Administration dances around labor law in sequestration battle

Mike Hinkle
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — A quote from President Kennedy is on my mind this week: “Our nation is founded on the principle that observance of the law is the eternal safeguard of liberty and defiance of the law is the surest road to tyranny.” We should keep this warning in mind as we consider the importance of a recent news item.

There’s no need to set the stage with an exhaustive summary of recent history. Here are the highlights.

Our ship of state has been foundering in seas of red ink for decades. Our legislators find it impossible to fund their parties, pork and junkets with the vast sums we send to Washington, so they routinely raise the nation’s debt ceiling and borrow from international investors and governments. Our fiscal irresponsibility reached such a dangerous pass that the United States credit rating has been downgraded.

When a determined group of legislators refused to “rubberstamp” the business-as-usual lifting of the debt ceiling without some meaningful move to reduce the national debt, the hysterical squealing of establishment politicians produced a dead-on-arrival compromise.

A so-called super committee was appointed to work out a deal. Failing agreement, draconian budget cuts would be automatically implemented on Jan. 1, 2013. The Defense Department is specifically targeted for a large proportion of these cuts. To no one’s surprise, the committee failed. Now, the proverbial meat ax is poised to fall on the Defense Department on Jan. 1.

In the run-up to the execution of these cuts, a bitter presidential campaign is under way. One of the make-or-break issues challenging both candidates is how to address the alarming unemployment levels devastating America’s workforce.

Let’s pause here for a flashback. In 1988, a veto-proof Democratic majority passed legislation called the WARN Act. This act became law without President Reagan’s signature. The law requires defense contractors to issue 60-day notices to employees if there are to be mass layoffs. According to the Department of Labor website, the purpose of the WARN Act is to protect “workers, their families and communities by requiring most employers with 100 or more employees to provide 60 calendar days in advance of … mass layoffs.” If notices don’t go out, offending companies are on the hook for all damages, costs and attorneys’ fees.

This means, of course, that defense contractors faced with the upcoming massive funding cuts will be forced to lay off thousands of workers. Consequently, under the terms of the WARN Act they must send notices to employees by Nov. 2, which is, of course, four days prior to the election.

These notices will be devastating reminders that the nation’s fiscal house is a wreck, the Congress is grossly dysfunctional and the president is ineffectual. But these notices are the legally mandated, fully foreseeable consequence of the foolishness that got us all here in the first place.

As obedience to this law would be an embarrassment to this administration, defense contractors have been directed by the White House to ignore the law. Let me repeat. Our executive branch is expressly advising companies doing business with the government to ignore a law duly enacted by the Congress of the United States.

When Lockheed Martin responded that compliance with the law is not optional and that failure to comply would open the door to thousands of lawsuits eagerly filed by scores of lawyers and are bound to result in millions of dollars in damages and legal fees, the White House brushed these concerns aside. On its own initiative, the administration agreed to put taxpayers on the hook for all damages, costs and attorneys’ fees resulting from Lockheed’s violation of this law.

American taxpayers have become compulsory contributors in a willful violation of law in order to insulate this administration from the embarrassing consequences of its own shortcomings.

Sadly, we are witnessing repeated instances where members of our legislative and executive branches manipulate our government as if that government and all its resources are their private pleasure preserves. To the extent that we, as voters and taxpayers, sit idly by and allow this to happen, we have no one but ourselves to blame.

Make no mistake, the behavior of every generation is judged by history. Each generation is answerable for the stewardship of the resources with which they have been entrusted. We have been entrusted with a great nation endowed with remarkable blessings and protected by sound legal foundations. We are in danger of leaving behind for our descendents a corrupt system saddled by immoral debt levels grieving over a sad roster of lost opportunities.

It’s time for us all to speak up, go vote and clean house. I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.

MIKE HINKLE is an Edmond resident and retired attorney.