Governor Protects Citizen-Soldiers Rights

Story & Photos by SGT John Queen, 2122nd GSU, 70th RSC, USAR; Additional Photos by SPC Charles Ames & SPC Josh Corsa   -   Posted Jul, 2001

When needed, the President of the United States has the authority to call Reservists and National Guardsmen to active duty by means of a Presidential Selective Reserve Call-up (PSRC).  A state governor has this same authority in a regional emergency, but may only call upon the National Guard of that state.

Guardsmen assisted local law enforcement during the World Trade Organizations civil unrest

Whether its raging wild-fires, erupting volcanoes, flooding rivers or riots in the streets of Seattle, the citizen-soldiers of the Washington Air and Army National Guard have always been there to answer the governor's call.

Although most employers understand the critical role played by the reserve component of our military, there have been instances in which Guardsmen or reserve soldiers have lost their jobs as a result of a call to temporary active duty.

Since 1994 re-employment rights have been guaranteed by the Federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).  So why was a new law needed?

Until the signing of the new legislation a gap existed in the re-employment rights of Washington's Guardsmen.  USERRA provides protection only for a call to federal service.  Unlike the members of the US Army Reserve, Guardsmen may also be called to State Active Duty (SAD).

Prior to Washington State Substitute Senate Bill 5263 becoming law, a Guardsman who lost his or her job as a result of SAD had no guarantee of re-employment following the call up.  Now, under Washington law, Guardsmen are guaranteed re-employment, whether they are called to federal or state active duty.

Recent SAD events include assistance to local law enforcement during the World Trade Organization civil unrest, and assistance to local fire fighters during the wildfires that swept across central Washington last Summer.

Guardsmen fighting wildfires during the Summer of 2000

"Our men and women who choose to serve in the National Guard and provide our community with disaster relief during times of crisis should not have to worry about whether theyll have their civilian jobs when they return from protecting our lives, property and business," said Governor Gary Locke.

Doug Sayan, former State Representative (35th District) and the current Chairman of the authoring committee - the Washington Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), developed this bill with other members of the ESGR committee and pushed through the 2001 State Legislature.  Mr. Sayan and the ESGR received vigorous backing by Senator Sid Snyder (Majority Leader) and Rep. Kathy Haigh (member, Gov. Committee on Veteran Affairs).

"The legislation signed this week is one of the first of its kind in this country to give all our Guard and Reserve troops equal protection when called to protect our state or country, said Mr. Sayen. Our committee, through the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, will work to place this model legislation into other states that face the same lack of support for their local National Guard forces."

Representatives from several Washington employers are recognized by members of the ESGR and the Washington National Guard.  (l-r) CSM Roger Santos, Mr. Bob Fievez representing Almar Watercraft, Mr. Burt Backman the Executive Director of ESGR for Washington, MG Timothy Lowenberg the Adjutant General of the Washington National Guard, and Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed.

The Washington State Committee for ESGR is part of a Department of Defense organization that works with employers, reservists, military leadership, and the Department of Labor to build and maintain a strong base of support for our Reserve and National Guard forces.  With help and resources from the National Committee, ESGR initiates employer support programs, including speakers bureaus, ombudsman programs, visits to Reserve/Guard training sites and legislative initiatives in support of the employer/military relationship.

In a related ceremony earlier in the year, key Washington employers were recognized for their outstanding efforts to support the National Guard through the ESGR program: Almar Watercraft and Boeing were among those recognized.

Over the past decade, Americas increasing dependency on Reserve and National Guard Forces to fulfill its disaster relief, humanitarian and defense roles are placing greater demand on the citizens and family members who serve as "twice the citizen," as civilians and part-time military (citizen-soldiers).  For civilian employers, this demand translates into the need for corporate support for the greater good of our community and country.  The Department of Defense has designated 2001 as the Year of the Employer.  For more information about the ESGR program click here.