Senator calls timing of Bed Bath & Beyond layoffs ‘a disgrace’
As Bed Bath & Beyond shutters stores and warehouses in New Jersey, a state lawmaker is slamming the retailer as “disgraceful” for laying off thousands of employees just before a law goes into effect that will mandate workers get severance pay.
Sen. Joe Cryan (D-Union), who sponsored the severance protections bill, called the retailer’s actions “disappointing and a disgrace.”
“It absolutely tells you why you have to have a law like this, because whether it’s Bed Bath & Beyond or Toys R Us or Payless, these companies continue to exploit workers for their own benefit at the executive level,” Cryan said. “It’s not only a shame to see — it’s disappointing and a disgrace.”
The bill, signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in January, will require large employers starting April 10 to give more notice about layoffs to their employees and mandate a specific amount of severance pay workers must receive.
Bed Bath & Beyond, based in Union, is shrinking its retail presence, and filed at least four notices with the state Department of Labor saying they will lay off more than 1,300 workers. Of those, 572 were laid off effective Tuesday, 262 Harmon employees based in Secaucus will be laid off April 1, and another 377 workers will be laid off April 9. Business Insider first reported the news.
“The intent couldn’t be any more clear — they’re trying to violate the spirit of the law. Employees shouldn’t have to suffer,” Cryan said.
Beginning April 10, New Jersey employers with at least 100 full-time workers must provide severance pay when they lay off 50 or more workers. Workers must be given one week of pay for each year they worked, at their average rate of pay over the previous three years or their final compensation, whichever is higher. Companies could be forced to pay out additional severance pay if they do not comply with the law.
Bed Bath & Beyond representatives did not respond to a request for comment. The retailer is trying to avoid bankruptcy, and is attempting to raise $1 billion in equity to pay off debts, it said in February.
Cryan’s bill was proposed after Toys R Us workers were laid off en masse after the toy retailer declared bankruptcy in 2018. The severance protections were signed into law in January 2020, but lawmakers delayed the enactment of the law after the pandemic led to widespread closures of businesses and skyrocketing unemployment.
Bruce Miller, a former Sears employee who lost his job after 35 years when the company declared bankruptcy, said the Bed Bath & Beyond layoffs illustrate “why this law is so critical to ensuring workers’ lives aren’t completely upended when they’re swept up in mass layoffs.”
“New Jersey’s working families deserve better, and we will continue to fight to hold major corporations accountable for their greed,” said Miller, an organizer with labor group United for Respect.
Cryan said there’s little action that can be taken against the company, but he hopes employees find a way to file a class-action lawsuit. He said employers who are struggling during a time of economic downturn need to recognize that workers who did their jobs should be compensated.
“Frankly, it’s a lack of concern for employees. Maybe that reflects what the problem is in that company,” he said.