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Ralph R. Pettiford never thought he would be a victim of company restructuring. But after 29 years at the U.S. Postal Service, Pettiford was demoted from art director for all 59 post offices in the northern New Jersey district to associate distribution clerk, sorting mail in the business carrier unit. With the change of his position came a decrease in salary and a move to the graveyard shift.
“Nights were made for sleeping,” says Pettiford, “and what I have been reduced to is no longer satisfying. I take my job seriously and enjoy the relationships that I’ve developed with my co-workers, but I don’t enjoy [this]. My gifts and talents are no longer being used.”
Just when Pettiford thought things couldn’t get worse, they did. The Sept. 11 attacks and the subsequent anthrax scare changed the work environment for postal employees. Face masks and gloves have now become standard for all workers.
After barely surviving restructuring, a decrease in salary, and threats of terrorism, Pettiford has decided to focus his energies on his company, Pettiford Signs & Graphics, which he started 25 years ago. He has also decided to hold out another year for his retirement package.
One thing is clear, says Clare Hushbeck, an AARP labor economist, more older workers are being asked to leave their jobs through restructuring or offers of early retirement. Even those working in government, long considered “secure” employment by many African Americans, have not been immune to the downsizing, restructuring, and early retirement that their corporate counterparts have been experiencing. And Hushbeck adds that before the events of Sept. 11, “we were starting to see more incidents of early retirement programs to ease out older workers. The business climate hadn’t been great for the last two to three years.”
Hushbeck says many large companies offer early retirement packages as a humane way to reduce the workforce, as long as older workers aren’t disproportionately targeted. Federal law protects older workers from being unfairly targeted for layoffs because of their high salaries. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) makes it illegal for companies to hire, fire, promote, lay off, or make compensation, job assignment, or training decisions based on a worker’s age.
And the Older Workers Benefits Protection Act applies specifically to early retirement packages. The act gives older employees 21 days to consider any early retirement offer and 45 days if the offer is directed toward a group. Employees also have seven days after signing an offer to change their minds. But Hushbeck also points out that since Sept. 11, companies are more reticent about offering much severance because they are “feeling less flush with cash,” she says.
Huey Ball was fortunate. Last summer, Ball, 56, accepted an early retirement package from 3M corporation after 28 years with the company. As a senior account representative, Ball managed a $3 million sales territory before he left 3M.
“The package was an offer I couldn’t refuse,” says Ball, who had been thinking about retiring. When 3M presented the opportunity, Ball, active in an