TO hear some business groups discuss it, providing employees and local communities with two months' prior notification of the closing of a plant or a mass layoff adds up to undercutting the capitalist system. Actually, providing advance notice of plant closings - as the United States Senate would require in legislation passed last week - would probably gain points for capitalism from a good number of the workers in question, not to mention perhaps a little sympathy for the owners of the plant. The plant-closing measure was enacted as part of the Senate's omnibus trade measure now being wrapped up in Congress. Although a fundamental objective of big labor, the plant closing measure won bipartisan support. The proposal would have to go before a House-Senate conference committee, since the House did not adopt a similar provision in its version of the trade bill. President Reagan, meanwhile, has indicated he would consider vetoing any bill containing a notification provision.
There are a number of caveats in the legislation, which need not be raised in detail here. But essentially, the proposal is straightforward: In certain cases, employers would have to give advance notice to their employees, two months' worth, if a plant is to be closed or relocated. Industrial groups contend that such a step unduly hobbles employer rights, communicates adverse information that could work against the company's stock market standing, and so on.
But really, providing 60 days' notice to a worker or community hardly seems excessive in a society where it takes that long to sell a house, or relocate the kids to a new school, or just start to budget the paycheck better.
This is a period of steady industrial reorganization - much of it stemming not so much from technical adjustments within industry itself as from mergers linked to speculation. Unfortunately, few employees who have worked a factory line for many years have the personal financial latitude to reap the windfalls of a plant closure or relocation in the same way an investment house may have.
Local communities and even states are now getting into the act regarding plant closings, sometimes seeking, for example, to keep a facility going. Advance notice helps these governmental units as well, not to mention small businesses, retail firms, and other suppliers who may be particularly dependent on their linkage to a particular plant. Finally, advance notification differs sharply from legislation mandating that a firm keep a facility going, despite an owner's reluctance to do so. Obviously, considerable constitutional problems would inhere in so stringent a requirement. By contrast, requiring advance notification says to businesses that they have a minimal obligation to their employees, who, after all, have given of their own service to their employers.
The Senate provision on plant closings makes good sense.