Mass layoffs up in Wisconsin last year, most since 2015

Last updated on January 8th, 2020 at 01:12 pm

The number of workers affected by mass layoffs that require a notice to the state Department of Workforce Development increased in 2019, but the total did not reach the most recent peak of 9,630 set in 2015.

A total of 8,590 workers were included in Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification or WARN notices last year, a 1.9% increase from 2018, according to data from the department.

Wisconsin’s unemployment rate has gone from a low of 2.8% in April and May to 3.3% in November, but remains below the national figure at 3.5%. The state’s year-over-year private sector job growth also slowed last year, averaging a 0.9% increase in the first 11 months of 2018 and 0.6% growth through November in 2019.

WARN notices are required when a company plans to close an employment site with more than 25 employees or make layoffs totaling at least 25% of the workforce or 25 employees, whichever is greater, or at least 500 employees total.

Employers are encouraged to file a notice even if one isn’t required but the department also does not always receive a notice when companies are required to provide one.

WARN notices are also generally an estimate of the number of affected employees. Some workers may find another job before being laid off while in other cases a company may change its plans without notifying the state.

More than half of the affected jobs in 2019 were included in WARN notices filed in the first three months of the year and more than 72% were filed by the end of June.

The biggest layoffs during the year came from ShopKo, which filed for bankruptcy in January 2019. The company announced plans to lay off 578 workers in February and another 1,715 in March.

In 2018, the total number of workers laid off in Wisconsin included 2,255 jobs lost at Bon-Ton, the parent company of Boston Store, which filed for bankruptcy that year and liquidated its assets.

Excluding those two large notices, layoff totals in Wisconsin from 2018 and 2019 were down slightly from 2016 and 2017.

The 2019 totals also included the closure of a number of nursing home facilities. Two facilities – Dycora Transitional Health-Colonial Manor and Bridges of Milwaukee Rehab and Care Center – filed notices with the state during the same week in November, eliminating a total of 137 jobs. BizTimes detailed the challenges facing the long-term care industry in an October cover story.

Last year’s WARN notice total is the highest since 2015, when the total reached 9,630.

That year included Wells Fargo closing its Milwaukee service office, eliminating 839 jobs, Assurant leaving the health insurance market, eliminating 1,200 jobs and the closure of the Oscar Meyer plant in Madison, adding another 1,000 jobs. There were also high-profile layoffs GE Waukesha Engine and Joy Global’s facilities.

The recent yearly layoff totals for Wisconsin are still a long way from 2008 and 2009 when the state averaged 18,000 workers affected by layoff notices annually.

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Arthur Thomas
Arthur covers manufacturing for BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.