One year ago, retired Army Maj. Gen. Mike Kauffman was busy boosting support among Utah employers for their workers who are members of National Guard and Reserve forces.
Most of the "what if" scenarios speculated about the difficulties employers might face if their workers were called to active military duty in the event of a conflict in Europe, Korea or Central America. World politics made the information seem mostly academic at the time.Then within 36 hours after Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, Utahns began leaving the state until about 3,200 Guard and Reserve troops were away from their homes and jobs on active duty.
Kauffman has now had a chance to see the impact the call-ups have had on Utah employers and is now working to get the troops refitted in civilian clothes and back to their jobs now that they are beginning to return home.
Federal law requires employers to hold jobs for reserve component troops until they return from active military duty. "We want all the employers to know what the re-employment rights are. We're prepared, in the event a problem does come up, and will attempt to solve it at the local level. But we don't think there will be any problem," said Kauffman, the executive director of the Utah Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.
Kauffman's committee has 125 members in 27 communities around the state who have been designated as local liasons between employers and employees if a problem arises. "Our volunteers are in every community where there is a Guard or Reserve (unit). They are contacting those people who went on active duty to tell them they're available," he said.
The committee members are all civilians. "Civilian volunteers work better than officials from the military organization," said Jim Stewart, the committee's state chairman and chief executive officer of West One Bank. "The idea isn't to be confrontational. A lot of it is just good communication."
And now that the safeguards to protect returning employees are in place, Kauffman said he anticipates the committee members will spend very little time shaking fingers and a lot of time shaking hands.
"I think the employers of Utah have been very understanding as people have gone away on the Desert Shield and Desert Storm exercise," Stewart said.
The law doesn't require employers to pay employees anything while they are on active duty, but a number of Utah employers have gone beyond the requirements of the law and are making up the difference between military pay and the usually higher civilian pay. Other employers have allowed workers and their families to keep insurance benefits.
A new certificate of appreciation called the "Desert Shield" is being prepared in Washington for supportive employers. The support committee has a list of 14 employers, so far, that are in line to receive the recognition.