AN OPEN LETTER TO U.S. LABOR SECY. THOMAS E. PEREZ

DEAR U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR SECRETARY THOMAS E. PEREZ:

I see that you have given your imprimatur to a new hiring initiative by more than a dozen major American corporations that seems on its face to blatantly violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.

Starbucks, Microsoft and Walmart, among others, recently announced the “100,000 Opportunities Initiative” to hire 100,000 16- to 24-year-olds by 2018. The program appears to be an end run around the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which prohibits age discrimination in hiring.

You are quoted in a press release  on Starbucks’ web site as stating, “The corporate leaders championing the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative recognize that promoting career opportunities for youth is a win-win, and I hope more employers will follow their lead.”

The press release states the initiative includes apprenticeships, internships, training programs, and “both part-time and full-time jobs.”  The ADEA unambiguously states that it is unlawful for an employer “to fail or refuse to hire” any individual “because of such individual’s age.”

The corporations are couching the initiative as a well-intentioned effort to help young people “who face systemic barriers to jobs and education.”  Yet, federal law does not allow employers to discriminate because of supposedly good intentions.

 The Obama Administration and the DOL should support programs that, for example, prepare high school drop-outs for careers rather than sanction age discrimination by America’s largest corporations.

As I’m sure you know, younger workers do not have a monopoly on systemic barriers to jobs and education. The unemployment rate is high at both ends of the age spectrum but older workers often are forced out of the workplace by age discrimination. Many are dumped into a financially ill-advised “early retirement” as a result of disproportionate long-term, chronic unemployment. A recent report by AARP found that half of the people in the U.S. between the ages of 45 to 70 who lost their job during the last five years are still not working. Older workers who are forced to retire at age 62 incur at least a 25 percent cut in Social Security benefits for the rest of their lives.  Age discrimination literally consigns many older Americans (especially women and minorities) to a life sentence of  poverty or near poverty .

It is unfortunate that the corporations participating in this initiative  refer indirectly to President Barack Obama’s 2010 executive order establishing the Pathways “Recent Graduates” Program, which permits federal agencies engage in age discrimination. The press release announcing the “100,000 Opportunities Initiative” begins this way: “Top U.S. – Based Companies Create Pathways to Economic Opportunity for Young Americans.”  This executive order arguably operates as a legal exemption to the ADEA for federal sector employers but  does not permit private sector corporations to violate the ADEA.

You may ask – why would older workers want entry-level jobs? Author Michael Gates Gill wrote a best-selling book in 2007 entitled, “How Starbucks Saved My Life.”  At age 53, Gill found himself chronically unemployed after being laid off from a high-paid job at an ad agency. He had no health insurance and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. His salvation was a job as an entry-level employee at Starbucks. Today, as a result of the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, Gill would find a sign on Starbucks’ door stating: Older Workers Need Not Apply.

Please reassess your support for the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, which really is just a pragmatic effort by big corporations to recruit and train young workers without having to bother with older workers who are disproportionately represented in the ranks of the long-term unemployed.

I understand you are a former civil rights attorney. I am sure you know that age discrimination is no different from any other type of employment discrimination. Age discrimination, like discrimination on the basis of race, sex or religion, is founded on false and harmful stereotypes, fear and animus directed toward a discrete group. I can’t imagine the DOL would support an initiative by America’s biggest corporations to hire only whites, men or Christians.  It is no more acceptable to support discrimination against older workers.

Respectfully, Patricia G. Barnes, J.D., author of Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace.

19 thoughts on “AN OPEN LETTER TO U.S. LABOR SECY. THOMAS E. PEREZ”

  1. Unemployment and underemployment has no age barriers and help for employees to
    enter or re-enter the workforce, especially with the backing
    of tax dollars from all working age groups, should have no
    barriers either. So many employees of all ages have
    lost their jobs or are underemployed through no fault of their own,
    Let this legislation cast a wide net
    to help all persons seeking employment — and without
    violating established anti-discrimination legislation.

  2. Thank you for your articles. It feels validating to have come across your blog, to read the words of someone who understands the legalization of age discrimination that is taking place and growing. I believe the precedent set by Obama’s Executive Order is going to lead to exponentially dire consequences for older workers.

    I’m only in my 40s, and even as a U.S. Veteran with a graduate degree and considerable past work experience, my earnings with the federal government have been nearly half as much at my coworkers in their 20s who had no prior work experience. The Pathways Program goes way beyond recruitment alone.

    It’s been several years since I began my career with the federal government, and it’s getting more and more difficult to sleep at night as I still don’t earn enough to pay my student loan debt which is now well over $100,000 and has accrued thousands in interest while in forbearances. How will I even be able to accumulate retirement savings?

    I changed from a person with enthusiasm, talent, and unique perspectives, with a good reputation and history of outstanding performance reviews, to a person filled with resentment and hopelessness. My depression has escalated to weekly thoughts of jumping off a bridge. I overcame considerable adversity to obtain my education later in life, having sacrificed 10 years to achieve it. In fact, I was the first one in my family to graduate from college. I worked so hard to ensure that I could live fairly comfortably, and now I am destitute and face a bleak future. My situation is so atrocious that people cannot even relate as I am surrounded by coworkers whose lives are financially comfortable, leaving me with no one to talk to for any support. No one wants to be burdened with stories of someone else’s misfortune, and that is understandable. I can even describe in words the degree of demoralization that I have experienced as a result of legalized age discrimination.

    And this breaks my heart. I voted for Obama. I now wonder if this policy is really a veiled move to pay back many of his campaign supporters.

    1. The situation is frustrating but don’t despair. The Obama administration has essentially pitted the generations against each other. New leadership will hopefully be more enlightened.

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