Ford Co. Report Fuels Ageism Trend

1912-ford-model-t

What does it mean to make way for Generation Z?

The slogan, “Make Way for Gen Z,” is the “featured” trend in a new report by Ford Motor Company called Ford 15 that  supposedly predicts micro-trends that are expected to influence products and brands for 2015 and beyond.

It is sad but not surprising that Ford’s prognosticators chose to  slant the company report  in a negative and arguably ageist way rather than by using a positive concept like  “Welcome Gen. Z!”

Ford doesn’t really explain who is supposed to make way for Gen Z but it appears obvious that everyone who was born before the mid or late 1990s should be preparing to move to the back of the bus.  It is a common marketing ploy for a business to distinguish a product on the basis of age. Youth is characterized as cool and desirable while age is the opposite. General Motors once  had an advertising slogan called, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile”

Ford is trying to appear trendy, forward-thinking and to cultivate a youth market by distancing itself from the aging millennial and baby boom generations. Ford celebrates Gen Z as the “first truly global generation, born into an on-demand, technology-driven culture.”   Common negative stereotypes about older people are that they are rigid and slow to change, not global and, especially, that they are not technologically driven.

In my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I argue that age discrimination in employment is epidemic in America and is fueled by outdated ageist stereotypes and subconscious fears about age-related decline and death.  Ageism is so prevalent that it is trickling down to workers who were once considered young.  Ford is signaling to millennials  that they are no longer young.   Millennials reached adulthood around the year 2000.  That would put them in their 30s today!

I suggest that one of the trends that Ford missed  is the very real and  destructive  trend of ageism in consumer marketing. This trend contributes to ignorance and irrational fear of aging. It pits generations against each other. And for what purpose? To sell cars?

There seems to be an underlying concern in America that the pie is not big enough to be split in an equitable manner – that one generation is robbing another. But this in a country when 16,000 families in America possess $6 trillion in assets – equal to the total wealth of the bottom two-thirds of al American families. The problem is not the pie; it’s the inequitable distribution.

AARP: What’s Wrong with this Picture?

American_Association_of_Retired_Persons_(logo)

Well, I finally heard from the AARP.

Readers may recall that I attempted numerous times without success in September 2014  to contact the leadership of the for-profit AARP and its non-profit advocacy arm, the AARP Foundation, about my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace.   The book exposes the failure of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 to protect older workers during and since the Great Recession and documents the suffering of older workers who are forced by epidemic age discrimination into a penurious early retirement.

I got no response from the AARP.  Meanwhile, I wrote articles for the International Federation on Aging and the American Society on Aging (forthcoming) on the connection between age discrimination and problems in retirement.

I was baffled by the  complete silence from AARP leaders – not even a “thank you but get lost.” Like most Americans, I thought the AARP was the nation’s leading advocacy group for older Americans. I wrote an article for this blog on Oct. 6  about the fund-raising emphasis and inane issues listed on the AARP Foundation’s web site – “AARP Foundation invites NASCAR fans to ‘Ride with Jeff” and  “Couples say relationships benefit from volunteering together.”  A few days later, I wrote another article about how other countries advocate for equal rights for older workers.

On Nov. 4, out of the blue, I received an email from Lisa Ryerson, the head of the AARP Foundation, who invited me to contact her.  In a reply email, I asked if she would agree to set up an appointment to discuss the problem of age discrimination.  She forwarded my request to Stuart Cohen, the head of the AARP Foundation’s legal team, who in turn forwarded my request to two other AARP officials, who were nice enough to talk to me for an hour last month.

In our discussion, I outlined my proposed short-term and long-term strategy for addressing the problem of age discrimination, starting with a focus on the passage of the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA) and listing age discrimination as an issue to be addressed at the upcoming  White House Conference on Aging.

The POWADA, which has languished in Congress for five long years, would reverse at least some of the damage inflicted on older workers by a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, Gross v. FBL Financial Services.  That decision raised the level of proof in age discrimination cases far above that for race or sex discrimination cases.  Older workers  today are literally second class citizens in our nation’s court system, which is completely contrary to basic American concepts of fairness and equal justice under the law.

Meanwhile, age discrimination is so pervasive that it is trickling down to workers in their 30s and 40s who are by any other standard young.  Even the federal government has gotten into the act. President Barack Obama in 2010 signed an executive order establishing the Pathways “Recent Graduates” Program  which allows federal agencies to  bypass older workers and hire  young workers.  How can we expect private employers to obey the law when the federal government doesn’t?

In our discussion, I  equated the failure to pass the POWADA to the “Broken Window” theory, which holds that a broken window in a neighborhood is an invitation to thieves because it shows the neighborhood is overlooked and neglected. If older Americans can’t expect equal rights in the courts, how can they expect equal rights elsewhere?

One of the AARP officials sent me an email a few days later thanking me for my interest but stating that the AARP was already doing some of the things on my list. Whatever that means?

The AARP takes credit every year that Congress fails to cut Social Security. The AARP Foundation monitors Congress and the legal team files amicus or friend of the court briefs in U.S. Supreme Court cases and represents a select few individual s in lawsuits involving age discriminaton. But that obviously is not enough.  If it were, the POWADA would be law.

The POWADA hasn’t even made it out of committee for five years.  The failure to pass the POWADA reflects astounding ignorance and inexcusable neglect. No one  has come forward to oppose the POWADA because that would be like opposing equal rights for older Americans. The immediate passage of the POWADA is the absolute minimum that older workers should expect.  Even that will not improve the situation significantly because the ADEA is still hopelessly flawed. Older workers  are denied the same level of protection that is provided under Title VII. I have advocated scrapping the ADEA and making age a protected class under Title VII.

Hoovers estimates the value of the AARP, Inc., which sells medical insurance and travel products to an estimated 37 million members, to be more than $1.34 billion.  Sholdn’t older Americans be getting more bang from their bucks. What’s wrong with this picture?

New Technology; Same Exploitative Management

the bully trap

It is baffling that in an era that has seen such a revolution in new technology there is so little innovative thought about how to best manage a workforce.

One might have thought that Silicon Valley, the home of new technology, also would become a testing ground for innovation with respect to managing employees but that has not occurred.  In fact, Silicon Valley appears intent on exploiting young workers by essentially forcing them to spend 10 to 12 hours a day or more at the office, ignoring the cumulative mental and physical health damage of this kind of lifestyle.

Some employers offer free massages, yoga and gyms but that is not the same thing as offering a reasonable work schedule that permits a healthy work/life balance. Presumably, when these young people “grow up” and decide to have families they will be encouraged to move on. But even that is being delayed as some Silicon Valley employers offer female employees a free benefit to harvest and freeze their eggs to delay childbirth.

And, of course, Silicon Valley collectively could be called one of the most discriminatory employers in  America; its workforce consists disproportionately of young white men.

A former top executive with Shoppers Drug Mart and Loblaw of Canada, Andrew Faas,  65, has written a new book on workplace bullying called, The Bully’s Trap, in which he shares “lessons on leadership and workplace mental health.”   Whether or not the book has any merit, Faas is at least offering a manager’s perspective on the problem of workplace bullying and abuse.  There is no equivalent to Faas in the United States, where workplace bullying is largely tolerated despite overwhelming  research showing that workplace abuse costs employers and society billions in lost productivity, higher health care costs and needless  litigation.

.In a press release, Faas states that he “was accused of being a bully at times, and I learned the hard way the impact this had on colleagues … This year we have seen countless examples that workplace bullying is becoming an epidemic in major corporations if not addressed and dealt with.”

Faas, 65, also has donated $1 million to assist Canada’s leading hospital for mental health  the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, to develop new educational programs to create psychologically healthier workplaces.  He said that proceeds from his book will go to his foundation for mental health initiatives.

Unfortunately,  Faas became involved in a controversy last year when a writing collaboration broke down with American author, Barbara Coloroso, author of the 2001 book, The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander. Both parties filed lawsuits. Coloroso accused Faas of committing “blatant acts of plagiarism and copyright infringement” from sources including Wikipedia.  I’ll be curious to see if my  book, Surviving Bullies, Queen Bees & Psychopaths in the Workplace, makes an appearance!

The 1877 Master and Servant Rule Lives!

Horace Gray Wood

If you wonder why American workers need protection from workplace bullying, consider last week’s decision by a federal appeals court in Chicago regarding a 51-year-old plant  manager who was fired by Sun Chemical Corp. in 2009.

George Widmar, 51, was a plant manager for 16 years who was fired in 2009 by Sun Chemical, denied severance pay and publicly accused of  having “screwed up” the plant. Sun Chemical argued that plant managers must accept responsibility over all aspects of a plant – even those outside the manager’s control.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago agreed.

The appeals court did not discount the possibility that everything Widmar claimed had happened to him did in fact happen. Among other things, Widmar said he was blamed for problems stemming from a flawed chemical formula and Sun’s decision to use cheap, faulty materials.  The court ruled in the case of Widmar v. Sun Chemical Corp, No. 13-2313 (November 19, 2014), that none of this mattered.

The court said the law is not concerned about employers or managers who are “unpleasant,” “unfair” or “too hard” on employees. The law is not concerned if an employer/manager has a “nefarious motive,” doesn’t like, or is “wrong” about an employee’s performance. Furthermore, the law doesn’t care if the company creates conditions that make it impossible for a worker to succeed.

All the law cares about, said the appeals court, is whether an employee can prove illegal discrimination.

Paradoxically, of course, it is impossible to prove illegal discrimination if the law doesn’t care that the employer had nefarious motives, was wrong about the employee’s performance and created conditions that made it impossible for the manager to succeed. What’s left? Is it fair to expect an employer to tell an employee outright that it is intent upon violating federal discrimination laws?  Sometimes all a worker can do is point to harassment and unfair policies and expect the law to care.

Many industrialized countries do care when employers engage in unfair and destructive employment practices. They have adopted workplace bullying laws and policies to protect workers.  The European Union in 2000 adopted The Charter of The Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which declares that “every worker has the right to working conditions which respect his or her health, safety and dignity.” Overwhelming research shows that workplace bullying has serious short-term and long-term impact upon the health of targets.  The European Framework Agreement on Harassment and Violence at Work in 2007 states that employers have a duty to protect workers from harassment and violence in the workplace.

America’s employment law is based upon an obscure policy concocted in 1877 by an Albany attorney and treatise writer, Horace Gray Wood. He created the “Master and Servant” rule that  provides when a hiring is indefinite, the burden of proof is on the servant to prove that an indefinite employment term was for one year.  Courts expanded Wood’s theory, which was based upon a scant four court decisions,  into the “employment at will” rule which reigns today and permits an employer to fire an employee without reasonable cause (except when the cause violates the law).  So Widmar legally could be fired without reasonable cause and his mistreatment ignored because the court declared his evidence was insufficient to show illegal discrimination.

Widmar was a senior employee with sufficient resources to hire and attorney and file a lawsuit and an appeal. One can only wonder how Sun Chemical treats lesser employees who are denied access to America’s archaic courts because they can’t afford hefty attorney fees and court costs or navigate a system that is profoundly intolerant of  self-represented litigants.

Why are Americans satisfied with working conditions that other countries find barbaric? Never mind Widmar. Why do the poorest and least powerful workers continually elect politicians who either ignore them once they get into office or actively fight against their interests to advance the goals of multi-national corporations?  And yet, the Master Servant rule lives.

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