Commentary by James Turnage
As an everyday citizen most Americans have a difficult time securing their rights under the law. Without sufficient financial resources or the support of an organization to assist a claim against the government or an institution, working class Americans are unable to take the action necessary to obtain protection under the law. Case in point, not a single member of the banking industry was ever prosecuted when they caused the financial ruin of our nation, but there are thousands of individuals in jail for possession of a controlled substance.
I was employed by the United States Census Bureau from early 2009 until the end of 2010. The Decennial Census hires thousands of employees; most are with the Bureau for a short duration of time until their projects are completed.
After I had performed two field operations as a supervisor, I was asked to work in the local Reno office late in 2009. I was hired as the ‘Group Quarters Supervisor.’ I was to supervise several projects, many of which were new due to the recent recession. Individuals and families were living permanently in hotels and motels, RV parks, and even campgrounds and caves. My crews also worked to count the homeless, and those living in nursing homes etc.
Other than our office manager, five assistant managers, and myself, we hired 100 clerks, as well as thousands of field workers who we trained. When we were in the break room having lunch, somehow we became involved in a discussion about age discrimination. The average age in the office was mid to late 50’s. Many, like myself, were over 60; and one lady was 80. The stories grew in number as we talked. Very few businesses were willing to hire anyone over the age of 55. Although the actual question of ‘what is your age’ is not allowed, finding that piece of information is very easy. If you give your date of birth, social security number, education history, and several other bits of information, you have given a prospective employer your age.
If age discrimination is so prevalent, how did we get jobs with the Census Bureau?
There was only one way to get hired; we took a test. When it became our turn to search for competent employees, knew nothing about those we hired, including age, disability, or ethnicity. Those with the highest score received a call from our personnel department. The age range in our office was between 18 and 80.
There is no recourse for the average person regarding age discrimination. Most companies do not violate the law directly. They simply claim to have hired ‘the best candidate for the job.’
The second issue which affects thousands each year is protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and enforcement by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
When the Census ended, I still needed a job. I had worked for an airline for ten years in my youth. I was there at the very infancy of security. Initially every piece of carry-on luggage, including purses, was checked by hand. There were metal detectors in the boarding areas and teams of Air Marshalls throughout the airport. And, yes, we profiled. A single, non-Caucasian man traveling one way with a ticket which was paid for by cash, received a red ‘X’ on his boarding pass.
I applied for a position with the Transportation Security Agency. Once again, I was assigned a time and date to take a test. I failed it miserably. One half of the test requires the identification of prohibited objects while looking at a color monitor. I am color blind.
I contacted the EEOC. Watching monitors is not the only function of a TSA officer; I felt the test was unfair. After communicating with the agency several times, the process became so time consuming, and costly, I gave up. The EEOC expected me to do all the work; I didn’t know what I was doing.
Individual complaints such as mine are handled differently than those against a large company or corporation. For instance, when approximately 300 black men and women filed a complaint against Pepsi, a team of lawyers and legal experts from the EEOC sued the soft drink company and won. They had been denied consideration for employment because at one time or another in their lives they had been arrested. The problem was that none of them had ever been convicted of a crime.
Finally, when Ronald Reagan was President, immigration reform was passed by Congress. It was ineffectual. The law did not specify the punishment for employers who knowingly hired illegal residents.
Laws pass and may have good intentions. But enforcing them is an entirely separate consideration. And then there are the extremes in the opposite direction.
The ADA was basically a good idea, but has become the most abused law in America. How many times have you witnessed an individual park in a ‘disabled parking only’ spot, and then walk quickly or nearly run into a store?