Standing outside the abruptly closed Friendly’s in Gates on Monday, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer said laws that govern large-scale layoffs need to change.
“The way Friendly’s left their workers upstate high and dry without even a moment’s notice, is something we should lament and something that we should make sure does not happen again,” said Schumer.
A handful of former employees met with the Democrat on the restaurant’s patio.
“What happened to these people behind me is wrong,” Schumer said. “Some people might call it unfriendly but that’s too easy. It was mean, it was nasty.”
Rob Carter was the location’s manager. He said he had little notice about the closure.
“I got a call at 10 o’clock,” said Carter. “Saying that when these doors close, Friendly’s is no more. I thought it was a joke. I heard of businesses doing that before, but I never thought I’d see that.”
A spokesperson for Friendly’s said the company followed all state and federal labor laws when it closed those stores.
One of those laws is the WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) Act. That law requires businesses employing 100 employees or more to give 60 days notice for large-scale layoffs. Schumer said the law didn’t apply in this case because no single Friendly’s location has more than 50 employees.
“The WARN Act was never intended to let Friendly’s off the hook,” said Schumer. “Their clever lawyers found a loophole. We’re going to shut it so it never happens again.”
Schumer said he plans to submit legislation in Congress that will change the law “in short order.”
Schumer said that Friendly’s closed 15 upstate New York restaurants in early April, affecting a total of 375 full-time employees. The only Western New York location now is in Batavia, after locations in Amherst, Blasdell, Jamestown and Williamsville were closed.
A spokesperson for Friendly's released this statement on Monday:
"An especially difficult aspect of the tough but necessary decision to close certain restaurants was the impact on the locations’ wonderful employees, who were informed of the news personally and supported with opportunities at other Friendly’s locations, significant severance payments not required by law, and other assistance. Friendly’s has fully complied with all federal and state employee notice requirements."