May 27, 2005

Not just a buried lead.

But a whole buried story.

We were reading this news story about how some Iraq veterans have been having trouble getting their old jobs back from their employers when we realized that you could make a different story out of the material the reporter presented. While the existing story focused on the various problems that National Guard members have after returning from a call-up, the new story would focus on the difficulties that the US military's heavy reliance on members of the Army Reserve and National Guard are causing for employers, especially small ones. That story would be headlined something like 'Iraq deployments hit small employers hard,' and it would read like this:

For many companies, losses begin when guard and reserve employees are called up and employers have to scramble to fill their positions with temps. Some bosses estimate they've spent up to $10,000 on fill-ins, including hiring and training costs, and time lost on the job.

"In our case, training has to be done by staff, plus schooling, so the productivity of the trainer-employee goes down. Instead of losing one employee, you lose one and a half," says Dean Hartman, owner of Capital Business Machines in Olympia....

Especially frustrating for businesses is the unpredictable timing and duration of call-ups. Employers say their reservists have been warned they could go to Iraq, six months go by, then suddenly it's: "Oh, I'm going to be gone tomorrow."

The problems have prompted business groups to push for tax relief, as well as longer notification periods, on Capitol Hill. In a national Chamber of Commerce survey at the end of last year, 76 percent of members said a 30-day notification for call-ups was a high or extremely high priority.

Many guard and reserve members have had their tours in Iraq extended at least once and some have been sent to Iraq two or even three times -- prompting increasing numbers of businesses to say "enough's enough," and let their soldier-workers go. That's a flagrant violation of the re-employment law.

But as the war wears on, more employers are finding ways around the law.

"I had an employer at a small transmission company who had an employee going to Iraq ask me, 'Do I have to hire him back?' " says Burgess. "I told him 'Yes.'

"He asked me: 'What if I go out of business?' I told him 'Then you don't.' He probably closed the business, got a new license and opened up with someone else."

Bankrupt businesses don't have to hire back their soldiers sent to war. If there's no business, there's no job -- and no job protection....

But as the war grinds on -- and business costs mount -- some insiders worry support for the state's "weekend warriors" could erode.

"Most employers are within the law now, doing what they should do for the troops," says Tom Pearson, state director for the Veterans Employment and Training Service. "But if it's the second time around, and they've already gone through one bout of hiring temps and letting them go, will that change?

"What's going to happen down the road is really a puzzlement.

We're not saying that the story about the difficulties faced by returning vets is less important than the problems that military service causes to employers — that's definitely not the case. But it's interesting what turns up when you look at the same set of facts differently. And we suspect that the story about employer problems is one that will increasingly erode political support for Dubya's Iraq adventure.

Via Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Posted by Magpie at May 27, 2005 08:35 AM | Iraq | Technorati links |

Good post and some good food for thought. Thanks.

Posted by: Anne at May 29, 2005 09:29 PM