WASHINGTON — An advisory group of labor, business and public leaders Monday joined the Reagan Administration in pushing for a multimillion dollar program to rehabilitate "veterans of economic warfare"--experienced workers who lose their jobs because of plant closures and foreign competition.
The task force also agreed that giving workers advance notice of plant closures does not decrease productivity, as some business executives had believed.
"This is the first time that the country has ever faced up to the massiveness of this problem, dealing with something between 1 and 2 million workers a year," said Howard D. Samuel, president of the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO, and one of the commission's 21 members.
The proposal bolsters one of President Reagan's few domestic policy initiatives of 1987--and certainly the largest. The President's budget introduced last week called for wide-ranging cuts in other domestic spending but sought $980 million to assist laid-off workers in preparing for and finding new employment.
Malcolm R. Lovell Jr., director of the George Washington University Labor-Management Institute and chairman of the task force, which was formed by Labor Secretary William E. Brock III in 1985, said that the plight of displaced workers is manageable if it is given enough national attention.
"Worker displacement in a rapidly changing society is indeed a problem, a problem of such magnitude that it deserves priority attention but it is not of such magnitude that you cannot do anything useful about it," he said.
Unlike other unemployment efforts of the past, the task force study focused narrowly on experienced men and women who have lost their jobs permanently after an "attachment to the work force" of at least three years.
Because of this, Lovell expressed a "much greater cause of optimism" about the success of a large-scale government jobs program. Many of these past programs, with broader targets of reaching unskilled and chronically unemployed persons, have been criticized as ineffective.
The task force called for a consolidation of $330-million worth of existing federal employment dislocation programs and $570 million in new spending. The general idea is for the federal government to set a framework for assistance. Eighty percent of the money would be turned over to the states, which would establish their own priorities, such as retraining or even offering short-term subsidies to workers who can only find jobs paying less than they have been paid.
Use of Existing Revenues
With one member dissenting, the advisory group suggested using existing general revenues to pay the costs. But if general revenues are unavailable, the panel said it "is convinced that the program is of such importance to the nation's competitive position that alternative methods of financing should be considered." A previous draft of the report had called for a new payroll tax.
One of the major sticking points in the task force study was a demand by organized labor for support of new legislation requiring companies to notify workers in advance of plant closures. The panel failed to reach agreement on the issue. But even the business members of the task force acknowledged that industry had little to fear from telling workers about impending shutdowns.
"We could not find any adverse effects on productivity during the notice period, and, secondly, people were placed more rapidly in new work if they got a head start on the process," said Frank Doyle, a senior vice president for General Electric Co. "And as a consequence of this, it was a recommendation that businesses which can provide advance notice should do so."
Business Opposition Cited
Doyle said that business remained nonetheless opposed to Congress enacting mandatory advance notice requirements because "there are many companies, small companies, particularly some affected by rapid economic change, where that notice is not practical."
Rep. William D. Ford (D-Mich.) said that he and other Democratic congressmen will introduce legislation requiring notice before plant closures. A similar bill failed to win passage in the last Congress. Ford said he hopes that the task force findings will help "neutralize opposition" to the measure this year.