CORA LLA aka Creating Opportunities by Recognizing Abilities — Unpaid Wages for furloughed employees
I want to first start by saying that I do not want to bash CORA LLC, but I do want to state some facts and truths as I know them. I have been working for CORA LLC for almost one year now. Currently, CORA is experiencing a mass furlough. I am one of those Employees who have been furloughed.
I want to start off by letting you know something about me. I am a hard worker who suffers with a physical disability and severe depression. During my employment with CORA, I met all requirements such as quotas and attendance. I even held an internal staff position. I truly believed in the mission of CORA to employ disabled Americans. I had not worked for almost 10 years before I became an employee of CORA. CORA had given me my self-worth, dignity, and pride back. I felt like a person again that was no longer defined by my disabilities, but rather by my job skill. I loved coming to work every day. I may have missed only a total of 3 days of work on my end during my employment with CORA. I honestly and truthfully would consider myself a model employee.
CORA in February of 2009 furloughed its employees for two weeks, because there were serious issues of production. It was said at the time by the CEO and owner of CORA, Ilene Morris Sambur, that approximately 90% of the company was not meeting the minimum production standards that were set. The furlough was imposed in order to revamp CORA's training of employees. I personally agreed that the furlough at that time was necessary. I am happy to report that the furlough produced some wonderful uniform changes in CORA's training that did improve the functioning of the company.
The current situations in CORA are: 1) Employees are furloughed indefinitely, 2) A very high percentage of Employees are owed paychecks from as late as June 2009 to the present, and 3) Many employees have been terminated or have quit due to reasons of being whistle blowers and complainers to being disgusted with CORA.
Many employees in May 2009 were not aware of the impending money crises that CORA was beginning to experience at that time. Employees up to that point in time had been receiving direct deposits every Friday on time. Then, one day, paychecks were not deposited on that Friday. Many employees had automated bank drafts set up for personal reasons. They expected their checks to be there like they were there every Friday. Lo and behold, they were not. CORA's employees are only scheduled to work M-F at minimum wage for no more than 15 hours a week. Now, it was a Saturday, and employees were horrified to find that their checks had not been deposited. This caused many employees to overdraw their accounts, and also caused them to miss scheduled payments for automated bank drafts. It was not until sometime later that evening, if my memory serves me right, that employees could go to the company communications board to view a message posted by Management that stated something to the effect of there being some type of major power outage in the west where CORA's bank was located that caused paychecks to not be deposited on time. I do not think at the time that any Employees were able to see what was coming next. I know that I sure didn’t. CORA's CEO promised to reimburse those employees who had incurred ISF fees once the Employee provided proof of the fees. That was a noble thing for CORA to do, but it did not address the fact that the Employee whose automated payments were bounced also had their credit damaged by a late payment. Business as usual continued in CORA. Then, the next week there was a notice posted either the day before payday, or the same day as payday on the internal communications board again. It warned that paychecks would be late again. Unfortunately for many, the notice came too late to stop automated payments. Once again, CORA stepped up and offered to pay ISF fees for those employees affected. The next week, a companywide webinar was held on a Wednesday where employees were told by the CEO that direct deposits would be discontinued indefinitely until they could find a new payment processor. It was explained that the company that CORA hired to handle payroll was not able to timely process paychecks due to their company’s size and resources. Employees were given a schedule as to when they should expect to receive their paychecks in the mail. The new schedule was just shy of 2 weeks. That seemed reasonable to most employees, because it was like being paid every two weeks instead of being paid weekly. By the end of May, the true payroll issues became apparent to many employees when their paychecks were not received around the time stated by the CEO. Very soon after that, a particular client project that was being worked on by many employees was abruptly terminated which caused those employees not to be able to work. Then, the CEO held another webinar stating that the client project was terminated, because the client bounced a very large check, and also that the employees who were working the project were not producing according to standards set for that particular job. Employees were told that paychecks would now be released at certain times. We were not well into June when this was happening. Stories starting flying around by Employees who stated that they received paper paychecks that had bounced. The CEO then proceeded to tell the employees that the paychecks would have to be released as money came into CORA so that no checks would bounce again. That is when the verbal abuse started on both sides of the issue. Employees were angry now, because they were not receiving regular paychecks even though many of them were working on new client assignments. Tentative pay schedules were now being posted on the internal communications board. Unfortunately, these schedules were constantly pushed further and further back. By this time, some employees began to complain to their VR Counselors about working and not being paid on time. Ilene and her Management staff became infuriated about this. They began to hold sometimes daily webinars on the subject of employees going to counselors to complain and how wrong that was to do. I do agree to some extent with CORA on this issue. Some of those employees did not speak with management about the payroll situation before going to their counselors. The tone of the webinars began to be very negative in a way that caused employees to become even more angry, or afraid to say anything about the paychecks crises. I say this because contrary to what CORA management believed, they were not satisfying its employees with the things that they were saying at the time about the fiasco. They started threatening termination for those employees who had gone to VR counselors. Management also made statements, and I am not quoting, like you (employees) should be lucky that someone wants to employ you because you are disabled. It is a privilege to work for CORA, and that CORA does not owe you anything. How wrong management is. CORA owed its employees valid explanations, its plan on how it was going to fix the problem, and more importantly the money that had already been earned by the employees. As management held these webinars, they did talk about the paycheck crisis, but it began to be in a blaming tone. It was stated by the CEO that those who had run to their VR Counselors to complain were causing further financial issues for CORA that would impact CORA paying it employees. Management began saying things like, those people did not think first about their actions before they went to their counselors. Now, many states are withholding payments to CORA for employees that CORA has hired. CORA receives approximately $3, 500 from a state VR programs to train disabled individuals so that the employee will be able to work directly or indirectly for clients through CORA. That brings up the question of CORA's financial stability. Is CORA that dependent on states to be able to pay its employees? Where is the revenue that is supposed to be generated from CORA's employees working on client projects?
Now, in June, CORA's CEO decided to furlough the majority of CORA's employees in order to catch up on paychecks. Sadly, it is now the end of August, and I am still owed roughly $680 from the last week in June to now. I am in dire need of my pay since I do receive SSI and SSA takes away $1 for every $2 that I earn. My earnings in a month effects what I will receive from the SSA two months later. This means that I am short monthly since June money that I need to support myself and my family. I will not receive a full SSI check until October. In the mean time, I have been asking relatives to assist me in helping to pay my rent, electricity, car note, phone and internet bill, and insurance. I had to go around my area to stand in long lines for free school supplies for my two children, because I could not afford to buy school supplies. I have a vehicle that I cannot drive right now not because it is not insured, but because I do not have gas money to put in my tank. Thank God for food stamps. CORA encouraged employees who were experiencing hardships to write to payroll explaining and/or proving their need for their paychecks at the time. Some employees began to lie to management, because they wanted what was rightfully theirs….their paychecks. That is a low, sad, sorry state of affairs when an employee feels the need to lie just to get a paycheck that they earned. CORA encouraged its employees to apply for unemployment, but I do not qualify because I cannot do just any work. I am severely limited in the type of work that I can do. During this furlough, CORA continues to employ new employees and accept payments from state VR programs for new employees while those who have been with CORA for over 90 days continue to wait to be called back to work a new client project, and to receive outstanding paychecks. Why is CORA still bringing in new employees when it cannot afford to pay its current employees? Ilene has now decided as of August 1st not to pay new employees for on the job training even though CORA is being paid money for training these employees. This can be rationalized by saying that now the money that is coming in from VR can be used to pay outstanding paychecks to current furloughed employees. I am wondering what happens to the people who are now completing training. Are they instantly also put into the furlough group without an opportunity to earn wages?
Neil Romano, is the President of CORA. Does the name sound familiar? If it does it is because he is the Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy and a former Assistant U.S. Secretary of Labor. I do not understand why as CORA is going through this financial crises, has he not address the employees? Does the right hand know what the left hand is going? I challenge Mr. Romano to address CORA’s employees on these issues instead of participating in magazine interviews about CORA such as the one he completed in Ability Magazine.
Management needs to refrain from making fun/insulting its employees during companywide webinars. It is very humiliating to a damaged person’s feelings such as mines. I had the CEO say some negative things about me in webinars. Even though she did not call out my name, it was just as hurtful. I feel that you do not have to make examples out of people to get your point across. It causes a division and mistrust between management and the employee. Threatening employees is never a good idea. You can anger a person so much, that they can become hell bent on breaking down CORA out of anger. Ilene needs to realize that many of her employees do have issues in self esteem because of their disabilities. Instead of blaming and threatening others, try to be more understanding. My grandmother told me that you can get more bees with honey. What you give is what you should expect. I do not mean this for all of CORA management. There are some really decent and considerate kind managers in CORA that are sincere. This was directed mainly to Ilene and those managers who “fit the shoe.” To this day, I have yet to hear Ilene apologize to her employees for the current situation of things at CORA. Apologizing does not mean that you are weak. It means that you are strong. You would be amazed Ilene of how an apology can begin to heal your company. Making threats and firing people just continues to add fuel to the fire. Excuses like Ilene gave such as what CORA is going through now is a normal course of business is not cutting it. I refuse to believe that this is a result of “normal courses of business.” Telling people to sit down and shut up and if you do not like CORA you can leave has got to stop now. I know that you have a business to run, but you can’t run a business without valued employees. Stop the finger pointing and blaming and “man up.” Enough is enough. Both sides in this issue continue to hurt each other. I encourage all employees who have been affected by these crises to get help and talk about your feelings. CORA may not be for you. As for myself, I will continue to hang in there, because I have nothing more to look forward to unfortunately. I have completed my assessment, uploaded my resume’, and applied for at least 3 positions. I haven’t heard anything yet on my personal situation. I am slowly losing hope. If I lose hope, what am I left with? Call me crazy, but despite all of CORA’s current crises, I still truly love and believe in CORA.