WASHINGTON – The number and scope of mass layoffs in Maryland has started to dwindle, a trend that is likely to continue even with the expected loss of 1,100 jobs next year at the General Motors plant in Baltimore.
Economists and state officials say there is a simple reason they do not expect the numbers to get worse — there’s little room for it.
“There are, in some respects, no more jobs to lose,” said Bill Bodie, an administrator with the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulations’ Dislocated Workers Unit, who noted that manufacturing jobs had largely dried up with major layoffs in 2002 and 2003.
Bodie and others said that after peaking in 2003 — a year when Bethlehem Steel laid off nearly 3,500 employees and Black & Decker shed roughly 800 jobs at its Easton tool plant — mass layoffs and plant closings fell sharply this year.
“I expect this trend to continue,” Bodie said, even though GM has already announced that it will close its Broening Highway plant sometime in 2005 and lay off about 1,100 workers there.
Maryland workers engaged in assembly plant-type work, and others working for big name employers, took a beating in recent years, according to Worker Adjustment Retraining and Notification filings, which track mass layoffs and plant closings.
The federal WARN program generally requires that any company with 100 or more employees must give notice to the state, to labor unions and to any affected local government when it plans to close a plant or lay off significant numbers of workers at a particular site.
A Capital News Service analysis of 388 WARN filings from fiscal 1999 through fiscal 2004 showed that large state businesses laid off 50,359 workers in such large-scale layoffs.
WARN filings rose from 5,295 layoff notices in fiscal 1999 to 9,909 in fiscal 2000 before slipping to 8,007 in fiscal 2001. But the layoffs jumped to 9,695 in fiscal 2002 before peaking at 11,843 jobs in fiscal 2003.
But filings of large-scale layoffs fell by more than half in fiscal 2004, to 5,610 jobs, a level that analysts said is more typical.
Because it only applies to large-scale layoffs, WARN measures only a small portion of overall job loss in the state in a given period. And Bodie said his office spends much of its time working with smaller companies and smaller, more isolated layoffs.
But the drop in WARN numbers was still welcomed.
“I think the trend will continue downward until it (the percent of workforce in manufacturing) finds a level point,” said Daraius Irani, director of applied economics at RESI of Towson University.
That does not mean manufacturers are done shedding jobs: Irani said he believes more manufacturing jobs will be lost in the near term, but he said they should be offset by the creation of manufacturing jobs in newer industries.
“There are opportunities to retrain into industries where we have a competitive advantage, like biosciences” Irani said. “But only if Maryland moves quickly enough, and nimbly enough, to allow for it.”
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