Job security for North Dakota's deployed National Guard members
GRAND FORKS -- Local National Guard members being deployed to protect the nation's capital can rest assured that they will be able to come back to their current jobs.
More than 200 soldiers from the North Dakota National Guard's 1st Battalion 188th Air Defense Artillery Regiment are being deployed to Washington, D.C., for a year as part of Operation Noble Eagle. There will be a send-off ceremony Sunday in the Alerus Center for those being deployed. The ceremony begins at 10:30 a.m. and is open to the public.
As part of the Department of Defense, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve helps educate service members and employers of their rights and responsibilities regarding employment of military personnel under the national Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, or USERRA.
"At the end of the day, for the purposes of civilian employment, a service member cannot be discriminated against because of their military service," said Kevin Iverson, executive director for North Dakota ESGR. "The purpose of ESGR is to ensure that people are taken care of in their civilian lives, but also to make sure USERRA isn't used by military members as an excuse for bad performance at work."
Iverson and local representatives of ESGR said they don't have many issues with Guard members returning to work after being deployed on active duty.
"In North Dakota, we deal with a different set of circumstances, and our economy is a part of it," Iverson said. "Leaving out being in the service, employees here have a powerful position compared to the rest of the country. Most places, it's 'Here's a job, take it or leave it.' Labor shortage in North Dakota is an important factor. The biggest question we usually hear asked is 'When can you be back?'"
USERRA is a federal law that establishes rights and responsibilities for members of the National Guard and Reserves, and their civilian employers. Provided a Guard member or reservist gives proper notification of deployment and returns in a timely fashion, employers are expected to allow their employee to return to work in the same or similar position, without an interruption of seniority or benefits.
"For example, if I were to work at a company for two years, and at the three-year mark I would be given a raise, but mobilized for a year, I would be entitled to that raise upon returning to my job," Iverson said.
In the event of a dispute, ESGR provides a mediator to help settle the dispute.
"Most disputes are settled within a day here," Iverson said. "We want the relationship between service members and civilian employers to work. At the end of the day, the only way the Guard or Reserves can exist is with the cooperation of employers."
ESGR representatives find North Dakota companies to be some of the most accommodating for members of the Guard and Reserves.
"We don't have a lot of problems in North Dakota," said Duaine Sanden, a committee member of the northeast North Dakota branch of ESGR. "Some employers even make up the difference between their Guard pay and job pay."
"North Dakota National Guard participation is four times higher (per capita) than the national average," Iverson said. "Everybody knows someone who has served here. Many employers express their patriotism in how they treat their employees. Many bend over backwards to help."
According to Iverson, ESGR is mainly a volunteer organization. Some volunteers have military experience, but prior service is not required.
"Some of our best volunteers are people that have no service or experience at all," Iverson said.
Sanden, an Air Force Reserve medic for 35 years, said many local volunteers have served in the military.
"They just want to be able to help out and stay up to date with things in the military," he said.
Nationwide, more than 4,900 volunteers have logged more than 230,000 hours assisting service members and employers.