Spokane Journal of Business

Spokane employers send first wave of layoff notices to state

Economist says activity resembles ‘natural disaster’

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Over the last few weeks, a half-dozen businesses with employees in Spokane County have filed notices signaling the Washington state Employment Security Department of temporary layoffs of more than 800 workers. 

Doug Tweedy, the Spokane-based regional economist with ESD, says he expects to see a tsunami of Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act notices being submitted by Spokane County employers with larger employer rolls in the coming weeks.

“Whereas it took almost 18 months to get to the bottoming out of the economy for the Great Recession, this event has occurred in just a matter of weeks,” Tweedy says. “This more closely resembles a natural disaster.”

The WARN Act was established by Congress in 1988 and is regulated through the U.S. Department of Labor. Part of the act requires companies with 100 or more employees to notify the public of intended mass layoffs. In Washington state, WARN notices must be filed with the Olympia-based ESD.

As of April 7, YMCA of the Inland Northwest reported the largest number of temporary layoffs, 509, in Spokane County, effective March 29.

YMCA CEO Steve Tammaro said in an email to YMCA members regarding the layoffs, “We are still operating essential business functions and have committed to supporting over 130 full-time staff through April 11, with a re-evaluation again at that time.”

Meanwhile, five other companies with Spokane-based workers had filed such notifications as of earlier this week.

Gee Automotive Liberty Lake LLC, which operates George Gee Buick-GMC, George Gee Kia, Porsche of Spokane, Mercedes of Spokane, and Gee Insurance Services LLC, notified the state of the temporary layoff of 97 employees effective March 25. 

Spokane-based Wendle Motors Inc. began temporary layoffs for 59 workers starting March 20, according to ESD.

HMSHost, affiliated with Autogrill S.p.A., a worldwide food and beverage company serving air travelers at more than 120 airports, temporarily laid off 71 workers, many of whom worked at Spokane International Airport. Those workers were separated starting March 18.

Feast Restaurants LLC, which owns and operates Denny’s and Jack-in-the-Box restaurants, reported 147 temporary layoffs starting March 17 in Spokane, Sunnyside, and Wenatchee, says ESD.

Quarry Tile Co., located in Spokane Valley, gave temporary layoff notices to 116 workers starting March 18. 

ESD also received notice from Pac-12 Enterprises, which operates the Pac-12 Networks, for 531 temporary layoffs in Pullman and Seattle combined.

Of the statewide WARN notices, most employers cite the layoffs as being temporary, Tweedy says.

“The Great Recession was economic in nature and required structural changes to the financial industry,” Tweedy says. “This is a health-related disaster that we hope is temporary.”

The number of unemployment insurance claims for the week ending March 28 in Spokane County rose 38% from the previous week, according to ESD figures, and the department stated the wave of pandemic-related layoffs has yet to crest.

For that week, 12,102 people submitted initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits. In the 10 weeks prior to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s implementation of isolation measures to curtail the spread of coronavirus, Spokane County only saw a total of 5,529 initial claims filed, ESD reporting shows.

Kevin Blocker
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