Called up and called away | nnbusinessview.com

Called up and called away

John Seelmeyer

As Nevada National Guard members and Reservists get called to active duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, John Runner is busy making certain that their employers understand what they are required to do when their workers are called up.

It’s rarely a problem, says Runner, who works throughout Nevada for the Defense Department’s program, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.

“This state is very patriotic,” he says.

At the same time, he acknowledges that employers sometimes are confused about what they are required to do when an employee who is a National Guard member or Reservist is called to active duty.

More employers are facing the question these days.

Of the 3,600 members of the Nevada National Guard, only about 875 of them work fulltime for the guard. Most of the rest hold other employment, go to school or work as stay-at-home parents.

Federal law is straightforward: Workers who return from military service must be restored to the job and benefits they would have had if they hadn’t been called up.

For the most part, Runner says, top executives get that. If problems arise, he says it’s commonly among first-level supervisors who face the problem of getting the work done when one worker is off fighting a war.

And that resentment, he says, can create bad workplace relationships when the Guard member or Reservist returns after a deployment.

When problems arise either between co-workers or between the employer and the worker one of the three staff members of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve program is dispatched and tries to mediate.

“I’m an advocate for the business as well as the service person,” Runner says.

Rarely, informal talks don’t lead to a resolution, and disputes are turned over the U.S. Department of Labor’s Veterans Employment and Training Service.

Far more commonly, Runner says, employers pull out all the stops to support workers who are called up.

He encourages service members to nominate good employers for their support, and the list of businesses and government agencies in northern Nevada who have been recognized is long everyone from Big Valley Honda to the Elko Fire Department and Curves of Winnemucca.

Sierra Pacific Resources, the Reno-based utility holding company, this autumn received the top national award for employer support.

As Michael Yackira, the company’s president and chief executive officer stood in a tuxedo to receive the Department of Defense Freedom Award, he was flanked by two Nevada National Guard brigadier generals in dress uniform.

The two generals, Frank Gonzales and Bob Fitch, both work as executives for the utility.

Yackira says it’s an honor, not a duty, for the company to support workers who serve in the National Guard and Reserves. Its northern Nevada subsidiary, Sierra Pacific Power, numbers 11 National Guard members among its employees, and six of its employees have been deployed since 2003.

“We give the back-filling employee a lot of support,” says Yackira, noting that one of the company’s executives took on the entire workload of another who was called to active duty.

“This is a factor of pride for Sierra Pacific,” Yackira says. “It’s the right thing to do for our employees and our country.”

He notes, too, that employees who serve in the National Guard and Reserves learn important management skills.

“Whenever someone is in a role where they are responsible for troops there is a lot of leadership that can be learned,” he says.

That’s a message that Runner spreads as he meets with employer groups around the state.

Employees who spend time in the National Guard and Reserves, he says, often learn skills that can be put to use directly on the job. And, he says, they learn leadership skills and develop military discipline that is valuable to employers.


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