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CAREERS TODAY–Creaking Bones and Making New Career Starts

Dear Joyce: I work as receiving manager at a large department store in a chain sold about four years ago. At the time of the takeover, I had four workers helping me unload trucks and related work. Now I have none and the work is assigned to part-time workers plus the store’s cleaning people for a few hours a day. When I have a weekend off, I return to find the contents of a merchandise trailer left on the platform unloaded and unprocessed, which increases my workload. I often work through lunch. When I asked the store management for more help, I was told that if I didn’t like it I could quit.

As one of the last full-time people working in this store, I feel as though I am being forced out. There’s no union, and the personnel officer is one of the two management people I fear are attempting to drive me to quit.

I have 21 years working for this store, am 50 years old, and I do receive four weeks vacation and full benefits. The work is very physical , my back hurts and my body is wearing down. I feel I am really standing alone and could sure use some help in this matter. Thank you for reading my letter.

, Fifty and Frightened

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You do not stand alone; a wave of 6.5 million Americans (age 45 to 54, according to federal Department of Labor approximate figures) are at your side, all of whom relied heavily on physical effort throughout their working lives. Now, as they hover at the half-century mark, sometimes with creaking bones and smarting backs, many face the future not with the old clear-cut career paths and reliable softer manufacturing jobs, but with stress, uncertainty and apprehension as the world works differently.

I agree it appears the store’s managers, themselves under enormous pressure to save their own jobs by creating shareholder value, would like to see you outta there. Department stores, battling discounters and E-commerce rivals, are in a fight for their lives.

Your managers look at you and the costs of fulfilling promises made long ago , health care, retirement, possible future OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) liability for your physical degeneration, vacation and other benefits , and probably think, hmmmm, he’s too old to work back-breaking (I intended that pun) hours, sometimes off the clock, and his benefits are too generous for what he’s producing. Off with him! Here are suggestions on fighting back.

– Initiate a holding action while you decide how best to rehabilitate your future. Buy time by continuing your diligent work but don’t create a disability for yourself. Break for lunch. Ask your doctor if one of the new arthritis pills will help; I’m taking one and it’s changed my life.

– Document development. Create a paper trail of how the work isn’t getting done. Memo managers but keep a file copy for yourself at home. And also at home, keep a detailed log of developments daily. Of course you’re tired, but you may have to take legal action for unemployment benefits or wrongful termination and you need proof. I think your wife wrote your neatly typed letter; use a pocket recorder to note what’s happening and ask her to transcribe.

– Determine your legal rights. Ask an employment (plaintiff’s) lawyer what else you should be doing to protect your rights and reap the benefits of your lengthy service.

– Investigate alternative career moves. Is your school district hiring maintenance staff and school janitors? Can you start your own company as the chief of a crew that works for multiple stores doing what you now do? Have you considered visiting your public employment service office for free occupational retraining programs?

Merely complaining and hoping for the best no longer works. New rules (usually worse for the worker) are in effect in today’s economy. Look for ways to survive around them.

Kennedy is a Cardiff-based syndicated writer and author of career guidance books. E-mail career questions for possible use in this column to her at (jlk@sunfeatures.com).

& #352; 2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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