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Soldiers won’t have to fight for jobs


Federal law ensures job security for those fighting overseas

Thanks to a federal law, one thing upwards of 2,000 members of the Iowa National Guard to be activated for Operation Enduring Freedom don’t have to worry about is finding a job when they return from overseas duty.

Congress provided protection for all members of the uniformed military services, including non-career National Guard and Reserve members, with the 1994 passage of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. The law protects those who perform military service, active or inactive duty, from discrimination in hiring, retention, promotions and other benefits.

Though the law gives soldiers peace of mind, businesses are forced to fill voids in their workforces with temporary workers or by having co-workers pitch in and assume the absent employees’ workloads. Colonel Robert King, Iowa National Guard public affairs officer, said most companies are aware of the law and are supportive of their soldier-employees, even if it means extra work.

“For the most part, we have excellent employer support,” King said. “We thank them for what they’ve done in the past and appreciate their understanding and hope they’ll stand with their citizen-soldier-employees and their families through this period of time and welcome them back.”

Natalie Bachman, a benefits officer in the human resources department at Principal Financial Group Inc., said 63 Principal employees serve in the Guard or Reserve and eight have already been activated to duty. She said Principal “goes above and beyond the call of duty,” when supporting its soldier-employees. In addition to meeting the federal requirements, Principal pays its employees the difference between their military and Principal salaries for six months. The company is currently considering extending that benefit to one year.

“We treat them as if they were actually here at work,” said Bachman. “We also designate someone to work with soldiers’ families if they have questions about pay and benefits.”

Dennis Lydon, director of marketing at J.E. Dunn Construction, volunteers about 10 hours a week as a member of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Group. A member of the organization for 15 years, he said it’s his way of giving back to his country. A veteran of the U.S. Navy, Lydon acts as an ombudsman when he meets with soldiers and businesses to explain soldiers’ rights.

“We use a businessman-to-businessman approach when talking to companies instead of making it a military-to-business issue,” he said. “We help resolve problems companies might have. The vast majority of companies are aware and supportive of the act.”

Lydon said the ESGR has even developed an awards program, “My Boss Is a Patriot Award,” aimed at recognizing employers who provide extra support for their employees. Soldier-employees can nominate their employer through the group’s Web site.

“When you’ve got a supportive employer, it’s more than just letting workers off for active duty; it also involves weekend drills and summer camps,” said King. “It’s another example of how employers are supportive even if it’s a real struggle because some of our people are in very responsible positions in their company or they work at a small firm, so it takes away a major part of their workforce.”

Jim Mason, interim assistant chief of the Des Moines Fire Department, said three firefighters have been activated. He said the department’s brotherhood increases when one of its members is called to war.

“It has brought the department a little closer,” Mason said. “It’s also been neat to see how people are going out of their way to support the families.”

King said job security helps build the morale of the troops, too.

“They have a good attitude and morale seems to be high,” he said. “They understand what it is about and they realize the need to do what their country is asking them to do.”

Job Security

Ernest Jennings, a second lieutenant with the Iowa National Guard’s 1168th Transportation company, has a lot of things on his mind. By day, he trains as a soldier about to be deployed overseas. By night, he works diligently with his wife, Colleen, to get his civilian life in order before he leaves for a year of active duty.

Finding a job when he returns from duty, however, is one thing Jennings doesn’t have to worry about. The band director at North High School is assured of re-employment at the school when he comes home, although it might not be the same position, thanks to a federal law protecting soldiers’ jobs.

“It gives me peace of mind knowing I’ll have a job at school when I get back,” said Jennings, who said goodbye to his students Jan. 31 before being activated Feb. 3 “It alleviates a lot of stress for people in uniform.”

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