Subject: File No. JOBS Act Title VII
From: Blanche E Cordero
Affiliation: Former Director, Human Resources of Russ Berrie U.S. Gift, Inc. now known only as the long term unemployed baby boomer

March 13, 2013

I worked for Russ Berrie US Gift, Inc. from 2/26/2001 to 1/18/2011 -almost 10 years. I lost my job on January 18, 2011 because my job was no longer required and my salary was too high. It turned out that my subordinate, the Benefits Manager, was promoted after I left to HR Manager and given an increase in salary. I was 1 of 29 individuals who were terminated. We later found out the company was preparing to file for Chapter 7 Liquidation in April 2011.
I would also like to note that I communicated to my boss, the CFO, prior to my termination, that I felt I was being targeted for termination by the SVP, Legal, due to a note I was provided by my subordinate, Mgr Benefits, that he wanted her in my job rather than me. He referred to some incident numerous years before when I worked for the VP-HR as the reason for wanting me out of the company. I had no knowledge of any incident nor was there anything in my file. No action was taken against the SVP, Legal to my knowledge. In fact, he was the individual who my attorney negotiated my severance package. In addition, to the SVP Legal, the Exec VP of the Company, falsely accused me of telling other people that I saw him and a former VP of Sales having dinner at a specific restaurant. I wanted to tell him that he was nuts, but I advised him that wherever he heard this rumor, it was absolutely false. I never ate at the restaurant in question and it was probably someone else who frequented the restaurant that must have mentioned it to others. Further, so what? He is allowed to have dinner with anyone he chooses. In any event, for the remainder of my tenure, I perceived that my reputation in the company was dimished by his personal and false perceptions that I would "spread rumors", as he accused me of.
This combination made working at the company, very uncomfortable. I It became a hostel workplace for me. When the SVP Legal was the one responsible for negotiating my severance with my attorney, I did not feel very comfortable. The timing of my negotiation was extended and after the fact, I realized that plan was to do just that. I received 3.5 weeks of a 3 month sev. package, which included medical and dental benefits, much needed by my family. When all other employees receive their final pay week, my severance pay was withheld. I filed a claim with wage and hour.
On the same day that I was being terminated, I submitted a letter from my doctor about my disability. I had previously communicated this to my subordinate, the Benefits Manager. Therefore the company represent ate had prior knowledge of my disability. It is all moot at this time, but I do plan to ask for permission to appear before the bankruptcy court for payment of my claims of unpaid severance, benefits, etc. I was age 59 at the time of termination.
Since that time, I have applied to well over 200 jobs, at all levels within Human Resources departments at companies of all sizes. I have an excellent background, over 30 recommendations, and now a significant number of endorsements in my various skills on LinkedIn. LinkedIn honored me because I was in the top 1% of people being followed. I just wrote - then why am I still unemployed?
Although I may have a good background, I have not been able to find gainful employment in my field in more than 2 years. The CFO of Bergen Logistics, in North Bergen, told me for an HR Manager job in a distribution center, that he "did not believe I could keep up with the CEO". I believe they realized the impact of that statement and the CEO, who did interview me, lied to the recruiter about the content of our interview, I was rejected.
The typical answer I receive is that I am "overqualified" for the position I have applied for. In my past experience with the EEOC and OFCCP, reviewing my AAP, I was advised that using overqualified as a reason for rejecting an applicant was actually admitting that the person was too old. Yet, time after time, this is the excuse I am told. I have asked recruiters to please explain what overqualified means if I am willing to accept the job duties and the salary. I explain that I want more work/family balance and I want to downsize the job I am looking for. Yet with this explanation, I am still considered overqualified. Although I ask what this means, I have yet to receive a credible response. I am also told that I would be bored with the job or it is too far below what I did before. Another concern is that I will leave as soon as I get a better offer. When I am told that I would be "bored" in a job, I ask how would the hiring manager know what would bore me. I was totally unaware that reading minds was part of a hiring manager's job. For example, I explain, I performed data entry duties into the Human Resources database for the almost 10 years I worked for RUSS and I loved every entry. I created a real time database used by the company as the main reporting system. I love technology and change. Yet, the reasons people over the age 50 are typically not considered for jobs are 1. they have not kept up with technology, 2. they do not like change, 3 it's too hard to teach them new things, 4. they will be bored doing jobs below their former level, 5. they will leave as soon as a better opportunity comes along, 6. thier salaries are too high, 7. they don't like reporting to younger managers, 8. they are slow, 9. and any other reason they can't think of to keep older workers out of their company,
The facts are real. It takes an unemployed over 50 individual and average of 17 months to find another job (I should be so lucky). More and more of the class of individuals are moving into poverty levels because we did the right thing - saved. We now have to choose between using our 401(k)'s to meet current expenses or have nothing left when we are really old. Why are companies, recruiting firms, web sites, etc. allowed to blatantly discriminate again those who are unemployed and those who are over the age of 50?
Do you know how many job sites and company career sites require you to list your date of birth? Do you know how many sites ask for dates of school graduation? We are told at our support groups to lie. Why should we have to lie? When did longevity with a company become bad? loyalty stupid? work ethic wrong? There is a solid brick wall between those of us over the age of 50 and a level playing field of truly being considered a viable applicant for a job. I have become more open and honest in discussions on LinkedIn, asking the hard questions. You have no idea how many people write to me and say they are so terrified of saying anything or doing anything at work that may appear that they are aging, disputing anything that management says or does and are afraid everyday that they will be the next to get terminated. Why? because they will end up like me. Long term unemployed baby boomer.
I am scared everyday. My husband is disabled. I have a disability, but I can't let it stop me. My son lives with us and he is unemployed because of the way he looks - tattoos and piercings. My mother-in-law moved into an addition we started before I lost my job because she is legally blind. When my husband hits the donut hole in the RX plan, one RX alone is $1,000. He has already hit the donut hole. My health insurance has gone up and I have a plan that caps benefits. I am paying off a hospital where I had to get extra tests, which went over the cap. Since my mother died at 46 of ovarian cancer, I usually get a sonogram. Not this year. One day I am earning $110,000 and I am great at my job and the day after, I am an unemployed baby boomer. I have been offered $15/hr for a temp job 50 miles from my home. I have not been able to get any HR temp jobs during this entire period. I am more than willing to learn anything, but I cannot break through the brick wall, as most of us cannot.
What the jobs act needs is some kind of enforcement or overview of the laws already in place. The tracking systems used are an easy out for companies. You read all the time about people who are in the jobs who do not get through the tracking systems. Make companies validate the systems. Then you have the job descriptions. Most of the people have to walk on water and be able to walk in and use the company's computer system with their feet. You get paid $40K maybe if you use you feet, only $30k if you only use your hands.
We have to deal with part-time jobs and no benefits, temp jobs and full-time jobs that pay a quarter of what the pay used to be, but I will take it. I have written that it will only take one person to see me rather than the label placed upon me by the recruiters and hiring managers I say that all it will take is ONE person to take the leap of faith and hire me. People only want what I call clones. They want to hire people in their own image, from the same industry, who has only been in their last job for 2 years and companies never want anyone with more than 15 years of experience. So we lie. I have a problem because my husband and I took a risk and bought a business, which creates a gap between my last HR-Director job and my RUSS job. I view that as a plus because it adds to my business experience. No, companies want clones.
I believe the companies do not understand that diversity is the future. The most innovation comes from people who have not been in the same industry. These individuals view things from a different perspective. Moreover, whenever I hired someone who was unemployed, or returned to the workplace, they typically turned out to be our best employees. They appreciated those jobs like no one else. Today, the world has turned upside down.
I am not looking for a handout. I just want a fair chance. I want the discrimination against the unemployed and against those 50 and older to be dealt with. I want the requirements of birthdates and college graduation dates eliminated from the Internet. While you are at it, you should really check on the for profit schools. So many are scams and take government money and the money of the unemployed and give nothing in return.
If anything, do what CT did and just give some incentive for companies to hire us. Keep some unemployment money and put me in a job. I absolutely believe if each company hired one person, we would have little or no unemployment. The companies are so foolish. By hiring people, we would get consumers back who would start buying from - OMG the companies. If they started doing better, the suppliers would do better, transportation companies would do better and so on.
You could also help us by ignoring our 401(k)'s when we need help with RX or mortgage payments. Why would you want to create a new class of poverty stricken 55 and over people. You allow the largest pharmaceutical companies to make profits by tax avoidance, yet the average American pays more in taxes. Stop the lobbyists (and the money) Congress, stand up and be Americans first and partisan later. There are people in dire need and you are looking toward the money. What happens when the top 1% takes over? While you are looking at the money, this country is drifting into an inferior role in the world. Shame on you. You give handouts to the richest people, all I am asking is level the playing field to allow the 1.1 million unemployed people over the age of 55 works and contribute to this country. I would love the opportunity to start paying taxes again and paying into social security. I want to work. I know I am better than most of the younger people who are getting the jobs. I tell the employers that they are going to get a person with added value. I will take the job at the salary they offer and they will get someone who is able to do more and fill in when people are out. They will save money when someone younger is climbing the corporate ladder and leaving the company in the new norm of 1-2 years, because I will be there with the right attitude. A person can have all the skills in the world, but without the right attitude, it does not matter. You can't teach attitude or work ethic or loyalty or emotional intelligence.
Please do not let an entire class of people be denied an opportunity of gainful employment. The country will be hurt far worse than allocating some money to ensure compliance to the laws of the land and maybe some incentives for the companies. More for the smaller companies where they are still able to make changes for the future. The larger companies are too big to change and many will fail because they will be unable to change as quickly as required in the years to come. I plan to be working.
My plea is for equal opportunity under the law. I want to be allowed to work. I simply want a fair opportunity to obtain employment without someone projecting his or her bias or discrimination on me before I even have a chance to be interviewed. I know it is difficult to change a society that prefers the young over the perceived too old, but I cannot believe there is not one company in Bergen County New Jersey that could use a temp to do something. I just want a work/life balance in my life and I dont want to be a director any longer. I am tired of working 12-hour days. Im afraid to say I have family obligations at home. Im afraid to say anything that is true. There was a study done with HR recruiters about who they would hire the majority said they would hire a convicted felon before they would hire a person over the age of 50 There is so much written about the plight of the 50+ unemployed people that I believe it is a national disgrace. I just cannot believe that my profession has turned their back on me and all the other qualified people who deserve a chance to make a living.
I have read so much about the impending skills gap when the baby boomers retire (right - they are kicking people out), so why not keep the people who have the skills? Yet, we are told we dont have the skills. I think this is all fantasy made up in some business writers head and this is a faze that will end when people start realizing that the younger people just dont have the common sense, wisdom, people skills, loyalty, work ethic, and multiple abilities required in the future. We have the sustainability that I dont see in my own son who is 29. I am a person of value and I am just looking for a place to land. If you had told me that it would be more than two years and I would still be unemployed, I would have told you that you were crazy.