Jon Cassidy

Ohio Watchdog

Thousands of Ohioans could be getting layoff notices just days before the election, a prospect that has politicians from both parties running for cover, while the Obama administration is telling employers to disregard federal law.

The Center for Security Policy tallied 1,377 military personnel and 6,250 civilian Defense Department workers in Ohio that are scheduled to lose their jobs Jan. 2, due a federal budget-cutting mechanism known as sequester.

Sequester was the result of last year’s negotiations over increasing the federal debt limit, when both parties agreed to an automatic $1.2 trillion in cuts over a decade, including $500 billion in defense cuts, if no other deal could be reached.  None was.

Workers would have to be given 60 days notice under the WARN Act, meaning layoff notices would go out by Nov. 3, three days before the election. The WARN Act requires notices when large layoffs are “reasonably foreseeable,” but this week, theLabor Department told defense contractors it would be “inappropriate” to notify employees their jobs are at risk under current law.

John Irving, a former National Labor Relations Board attorney, told the Huffington Post that the Labor Department advisory wouldn’t offer much protection to companies that get sued by laid-off employees for failing to notify.

“It strikes me that the guidance is so far off the mark that you wonder why it’s being issued, and it’s not a regulation — it’s a sort of statement of opinion, which is coming out because of what could be the consequence,” he said.

The so-called sequester mechanism was meant to force the parties to come to terms on a less painful deal to cut the budget deficit, but they failed to do so. Republicans didn’t want to raise taxes; Democrats were unwilling to trim the budget strictly through spending cuts. The cuts would come on top of another $487 billion in defense cuts already approved.

A new study by Stephen S. Fuller, a professor at George Mason University, found that Ohio would face 40,403 job losses and $4 billion in lost economic activity over two years if sequester takes place. Roughly a third of those jobs would be direct losses; the other two-thirds would be part of a ripple effect.

Since the study was published July 17, President Barack Obama has written a letter promising to exempt military personnel from the cuts, which would increase cuts to materiel and civilian contractors.

When Obama flew into Mansfield Lahm Air National Guard Base – a base that’s on the chopping block – on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, denounced the potential closure, saying, “If President Obama has his way, his Air Force One arrival would be one of the final flights into Mansfield-Lahm Airport.”

Portman’s Democratic counterpart, Sherrod Brown, has been just as vigorous,calling the closure “penny wise but pound foolish.”

The Defense Department, for its part, has been trying to close Mansfield Lahm Air National Guard Base since 2005, and its 2012 budget proposal called for it again.

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, meanwhile, has been trying to place the blame for the cuts on Obama, despite the fact that it was his party that approved the bill in the House.

The cuts, as drastic as the political class describes them, represent just 3 percent of the budget and a reduction of less than 10 percent of the $1.3 trillion federal deficit.

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