A Worker’s Shelf Life


The Workers Shelf Life business model loomed in the shadows for decades and for a time was deterred by the legislation of labor, EEO and civil rights laws. Unfortunately the 80’s recession opened the door to a new kind of downsizing that would erode job security, financial futures of older workers, EEO laws, pension plans, 401ks, insurance benefits and the American Dream .

The American Dream In the 50’s and 60’s,  America began to see a glimmer of what it came to call the American dream. The dream seemed within grasp. Pioneering spirits, ingenuity, inventiveness, innovative ideas, hard work, self sacrifice, and true grit positioned America in the forefront in many industries including manufacturing, oil and gas, energy, railroads, automotive, aeronautics, construction, and technology.

American workers believed hard work, dedication, top performance, and loyalty meant job security, advancement, raises, and a good retirement plan. It was the American way–what we called “The Good Life.” America was up for the challenge. Companies and workers pulled together to build a stronger and better industrial America. Ethical and fair business practices rewarded loyal service, hard work, and dedication with job and financial security and a good retirement plan.

Building the Dream

In the mid 70’s and early 80’s Americans flourished, manufacturing, construction, commercial and residential, real-estate, and the savings and loan industry; all business revolved around the major oil and gas boom and the auto industry.

Prosperous oil companies purchased land in Houston Texas for the purpose of building their world headquarters that would house oil companies from around the world.

The oil and gas community sky rocketed and construction thrived as home building and real estate surpassed all expectations. Lending prospered. Life was good!

Cracks in the Veneer

By the mid 80’s, Middle Eastern oil barons had succeeded in educating two generations of their countrymen in petroleum engineering by schooling them in prominent American Universities. No longer dependent on other countries to run their oil companies and refineries, and now in complete control of global oil prices, these oil barons no longer needed the services of American business. A long and deep recession-depression followed.

End of an Era

The oil/gas crash had the predictable domino effect wiping out all petroleum related jobs and taking with them construction, commercial, residential real estate, and the savings and loans. All of this only added to the decline of auto manufacturing.

This recession-depression was the catalyst for big business to introduce a new business model and strategies that would skirt around labor and age discrimination laws; thrusting many age 50 workers into the down side of their career cycle. It would take Americans several years to fully understand the repercussions the shelf life business model would have on their lives.

In times of prosperity when jobs are plentiful and qualified people are not available, supply and demand provides a much more level and fair playing field. However, in economic down turns, severe recession, department restructuring, or new management; older workers are the first to loose jobs, suffer the most and many times get squeezed out of the job market all together.

American Workers Speak Out

These findings are based on interviews conducted over a 30 year span with American workers age 50 and over across the nation. Most of these interviews revealed critical insight into the dilemmas facing American workers experiencing the down side of their career cycles. Interviews revealed that many workers had experienced very similar situations and had few if any solutions.

Where Is the Dream?

Those who bought into the American dream were led to believe that education, credentials, Experience, hard work, top performance, and loyalty could lead to job security, a good income, benefits, and a nice retirement plan.

Initially, our career goals and expectations are attainable, and clearly our coworkers already seem to be living the dream. When an older worker received a pink slip, it is assumed that poor performance is the issue.

After all, laws, programs, and agencies are in place to protect America’s work place. However, realistically no EEOC law has been written that can not be bent or twisted. Management, attorneys, and human resource professionals are well versed in all aspects of the EEOC and age discrimination laws.

Documentation is easily manipulated; three bad reviews and you are out. Micro management, unrealistic demands, and unattainable goals add up to bad reviews. This is not to imply that all companies are unscrupulous, however, in desperate times, people do desperate things. It only makes sense that others would play the corporate game to protect their own positions.

About the Shelf Life Business Models

Shelf life business models have loomed in the shadows; however, the devastation that followed the mid 80’s recession opened the door to a new kind of downsizing that would erode away at pension plans, health benefits, and job security with little possibility of ever retiring from any company.

Companies currently use recession, slight economic down turns, new management, reorganization of departments, or eliminate jobs only to give the jobs new titles and refill them with younger workers.

Workers age 50 and over are many times targeted by ambitious executives or new management focused on advancement, increasing bottom line, and earning large bonuses. Common practice in lowering expenditures is reducing payroll costs, retirement contributions, and insurance costs that may increase pooling prices. Typically workers age 50 and over fit into all of these categories. You can do the math.

Sadly, once the cycle begins, it is almost irreversible, and pressure from the top inevitably perpetuates the cycle.

The success and future of American companies and its employees have become inconsequential to money driven executives that have little stake in the success or failure of either and take their money and run. Bottom line, it’s all about the money.

Corporate America systematically discards its valuable talent, experience, wisdom, knowledge, and expertise, and as a result, our country is loosing its leading edge. Other countries are taking our place as industrial leaders. No other country places such little importance on such valuable assets that come with aging.

Our American government understands the value and importance of experience. A person must be 40 years old before they can run for president. Surely that should tell us something! It is a physical impossibility to put 25 years of work experience into a 20 year old body.

Our only hope of regaining a foot hold in American industry, reviving the American Dream, and saving our middle class is to band together and fight for employment reform that protects the rights of workers of all ages.

The Handwriting Is on the Wall!

The message is loud and clear, and the clock is ticking. American workers can no longer sit back and wait until it is their turn to face the same ageism issues of their predecessors.

There is power in numbers! Boomers make up 28% of the American population, and together we have a formidable political voice for employment reform.

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