City Councilmembers Margaret Chin and Diana Ayala are pushing a package of bills intended to counteract age discrimination in New York City's workforce. At a hearing on Tuesday afternoon, Chin introduced legislation intended to help older adults re-enter and stay active in their field, ideally keeping them from getting passed over in favor of their younger colleagues.
Chin's office says that the number of working older adults ballooned by 62 percent between 2005 and 2015 in NYC, while seniors went from 13 percent of the workforce to 17 percent. Across the country, people are increasingly working in retirement, and/or retiring later, chiefly out of financial necessity.
"I think more and more, older adults are staying in the workplace and in large part it’s because they have to work, right? You can’t survive just on your Social Security and some of them don’t even have pensions,” she previously told Politico. “Senior and older adults are still part of the future.”
And yet, at Tuesday's hearing — a joint meeting of the Council Committee on Aging and the Committee on Human and Civil Rights — a panel of NY1 anchors spoke to the "systemic age and gender discrimination" they've experienced in their newsroom since Charter Communications took over in 2016. Former NY1 employee Marisol Seda Lourido (52), who sued Charter for alleged ageism in November 2018, and current anchors Vivian Lee (44) and Amanda Farinacci (40), who sued Charter in June, along with three other women in host positions, told the Council that they had watched as public-facing positions were created for younger, less experienced journalists. Meanwhile, the women over 40 were increasingly relegated to the sidelines.
"Over many years, we had all become very good at our jobs," Lee said. "We never expected to become the news."
"It is no secret that TV news has long disfavored older women, but we perhaps naively thought it wouldn't happen to us," she continued. Whereas "men are still allowed to age with dignity and grace," whereas "gray hair and wrinkles give them gravitas," she explained, women are "looked down upon and treated as second-class citizens as they age." According to the June lawsuit, men at NY1 didn't seem to suffer the same consequences for growing older: While the company brought in women in their 20s and 30s to replace women over 40, men in comparable experience brackets continued to earn more and enjoy extensive promotional campaigns vaunting big anniversaries. (When the lawsuit was filed, Charter said its review of the allegations did not find "any merit to them," and that it was "committed to providing a work environment in which all our employees are valued and empowered.")
Age discrimination is, of course, illegal at both a state and federal level, but complaints are notoriously difficult, and time-consuming, to prove. On Tuesday, Chin emphasized that a lack of awareness was part of the problem. "We want to fight ageism, and it has to be something that's very visible," she said. "Even a worker who's 20 now, they'd better pay attention, because that could happen to them 20 years later."
To that end, one of the bills proposes that the Commission on Human Rights create a poster that would live in all city agencies and be visible to employees. Another would make age discrimination training mandatory in city agencies. But harassment trainings aren't known for being particularly effective, and another bill would provide for an Age Discrimination Task Force "to study the consequences of age discrimination in the workplace." Within a year, the task force would have to submit a report with actionable recommendations that would allow the city to better support targeted employees. Additionally, a fourth bill would require the CHR to undertake at least five investigations of workplace age discrimination every year for three years, submitting an annual report to the Council Speaker. Finally, a fifth bill would provide for the creation of an Office of Older Adult Workforce Development, which would train older workers entering or re-entering the job market.