Business

When duty calls, employers answer

By PAT JENKINS

Editor

James Collins Jr. left his desk at Weyerhaeuser and marched off with the Army last month, another National Guardman doing the delicate dance of commerce and duty to country.

Businesses can lose productivity when valued employees are called up for routine or special missions, an impact that the Guard tries to minimize through its Employers Support National Guard program.

Large companies like Weyerhaeuser can absorb absences of military guardmen and reserves easier than small businesses. To help, the nationwide Guard program manages callups to the employersŽ’ liking as much as possible, said Col. Rick Patterson, a spokesman for the Washington National Guard headquarters at Camp Murray near Tacoma.

Volunteers filled the bill for the three largest callups since the terrorist attacks last Sept. 11 plunged the country into heightened homeland security and a war on terrorism overseas. And by calling only specific units or individuals to meet particular needs, the Guard has been able to avoid having Ž“significant numbersŽ” of Army and Air Guardmen on duty at any one time, Patterson said.

Ž“But they can be called at any time, and they know that,Ž” he noted.

In CollinsŽ’ case, the Army gained an active-duty chief of staff and deputy commanding officer for I Corps and Fort Lewis in Tacoma. Weyerhaeuser temporarily lost an information technology manager at its headquarters in Federal Way.

Collins, who was commander of an Army Reserve unit at Fort Lawton for four years, started his new military assignment Aug. 5.

Reserves are under federal command. Guard units are commanded by the governors of their home states during peacetime but are released for federal assignments during military conflicts, like now.

Realizing that losing employees for six months is a hardship for employers, the Guard tries to avoid monopolizing workers in critical jobs, such as firefighters and police officers, Patterson said.

Employers are generally understanding and fully cooperative, he added.

A Washington state law, passed by the Legislature in 2001, requires employees to tell their bosses if theyŽ’re subject to military callups.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses lobbied for the law (and tried unsuccessfully to include volunteer firefighters in the military-disclosure requirement) to prevent employers from being caught off-guard by workersŽ’ callups, said Mark Johnson, assistant director of NFIBŽ’s Washington chapter.

Ž“As an organization, weŽ’re very supportive of the military and its importance to our nation. We just want to be sure that there arenŽ’t any surprises,Ž” he explained.

About 95 percent of the 17,000 businesses in Washington that are NFIB members have five or fewer employees. Ž“ThereŽ’s a lot more impact for these businesses when one of their people goes off to serve,Ž” Johnson said.

Businesses can hire temporary workers to replace their called-up employees, but theyŽ’re required by law to hold their jobs for them. Businesses also canŽ’t reject a job applicant or dismiss an employee because of their military commitments.

Washington has 8,000 Guard members (5,700 Army, 2,300 Air). This year, 600 Army and Air Guardmen have been deployed for standard six-month missions.

Ž“They go out for 180 days and come back,Ž” Patterson said.

Most of the Washington Guardmen are home. Only about 100 are currently deployed in the U.S. or overseas.

Assignments since 9-11 have included the Winter Olympics in Utah last February, airport security and Canada-U.S. border details.

Pam Gattison, a spokeswoman for the 70th Reserve Services Command formerly headed by Collins, said employers Ž“have been very supportive, for the most part.Ž”

About 200 reservists from the 70th are deployed on one to two-year missions in connection with anti-terrorism efforts.

Editor Pat Jenkins can be reached at 925-5565 and editor@fedwaymirror.com.

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