Obama administration puts focus on employment discrimination against military reservists
The federal government under President Barack Obama has heightened awareness and enforcement of a law protecting military reservists from employment discrimination, according to an association that serves reservists.
But it hasn't been very effective, said Keith Weller, communications director for the Reserve Officers Association.
A 1994 law, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, prohibits discrimination against members of the military.
But the Department of Labor has never been very good at enforcing the law, and that hasn't changed, Weller said.
"There has not been any significant improvement during the Obama administration,” Weller said.
Still, Obama promised to put "additional resources” toward enforcement and investigation, and there's evidence that has happened.
For example, the budget of the Labor Department office that handles USERRA complaints has increased by about 10 percent, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, the president issued a July 2012 memo directing federal departments and agencies to better enforce the law's employment protections.
Obama pledged to dedicate additional resources to crack down on employment discrimination against reservists. The administration has indeed stepped up its protection, though advocates for reservists say more needs to be done. We rate this Promise Kept.
Labor Department, "Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) Information," accessed Nov. 8, 2012
Labor Department Office of the Assistant Secretary for Veterans' Employment and Training, "USERRA Annual Report to Congress," July 2012
Email interview with Keith Weller, Reserve Officers Association, Nov. 6, 2012
Email interview with Lt. Col. Tom Crosson, press officer, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, Nov. 14, 2012
White House, "Presidential Memorandum — Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA)," July 19, 2012
Reuters, "Special Report: Obama's struggle to mend veterans' safety net," July 26, 2012
Little action to address bureaucratic tangle
During the campaign, Barack Obama promised to "invest additional resources into enforcement and investigation in order to crack down on employers who are not following the letter and spirit of the law. He will also require the Pentagon, Labor and Justice Departments to work together more closely to ensure the rights of our troops are being protected."
There has not been much activity. President Obama appointed a new assistant secretary to head the Veterans Employment and Training Services, which investigates complaints filed by reservists. David Small, communications director at the Reserve Officers Association, says they are hopeful that the new secretary, himself a veteran with a service-connected disability, will help institutionalize changes that will make the office more effective in its investigations and referrals.
The association has complained that the Justice and Labor departments are not working together effectively and that so far the administration has not addressed the problem.
We spoke with two lawyers who specialize in the field, the Reserve Officers Association, and doing extensive searches, it appears that no other action has been taken than appointing a new assistant secretary to VETS.
The only statement the president has made on the subject that we could find was when he proclaimed "National Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Week" in September 2009. "Through their continued support and flexibility," said President Obama in his proclamation, "employers across the country bolster the efforts of members of the Guard and Reserve." Not once did he mention the word discrimination.
With the only actions being appointing a new assistant secretary and making a proclamation about reservists and employers without mentioning the word discrimination, we haven't seen enough action for anything other than a Stalled.
Barack Obama, "Fulfilling a Sacred Trust With Our Veterans" accessed on Jan 13, 2010
President Obama, "National Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Week" Sep 14, 2009
Interviews: David Small, Communications Director at the Reserve Officers Association, Jan 13, 2010; Edward Still, co-author of The USERRA Manual, Jan 13, 2010; Steven Herrick, Managing Partner at Washington, DC Office of Tully Rinckey PLLC, Jan 13, 2010.