Palmyra, NY – In observance of Veterans Day, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, visited Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6778 to urge the Senate to pass two key pieces of legislation that would boost federal employment of veterans and protect the ability of veterans and service members to access justice by allowing them to exercise their right to be heard in court.
“Our veterans and service members have sacrificed an enormous amount for our country, so we owe it to them to make sure that when they are back in the civilian world, they have access to good-paying jobs and all of their legal rights to protect themselves in the workplace,” said Senator Gillibrand. “We must fight for our veterans and service members as hard as they fought for us. I am proud to support these two bills, and I urge all of my colleagues in the Senate to join me in standing up for our veterans and service members by supporting this legislation.”
“The USERRA Law is perhaps the strongest bridge we have that supports the concept of citizen soldiers, navy, marines, coast guard and airmen. By clarifying sections of the law, service men and women will be more at ease about the status of their continued employment,” said Joyce E. Curran, NYS Director of Public Affairs, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.
“The brave Americans who raised their right hand and swore to defend the constitution of the United States not only deserve fair employment practices when they return home, but they also contribute tremendously to the civilian workplace,” said Veterans Outreach Center, Inc. Executive Director Laura Stradley. “They bring unparalleled soft skills, the ability to lead as well as follow, and a work ethic that is uncommonly solid. Employers should recognize and welcome every opportunity to honor the service of our veterans; the workforce will be enhanced by their talents.”
Gillibrand is working to pass two pieces of legislation:
The Empowering Federal Employment for Veterans Act of 2017, would make permanent and expand recent initiatives to improve veteran hiring practices in the 24 largest departments and agencies. The legislation would coordinate the necessary resources and recruitment opportunities for veterans and service members to be matched with appropriate employment in federal agencies.
The legislation would do the following:
- Require Veterans Employment Program Offices to have a full-time staff and budget at all 24 of the federal government’s largest departments and agencies. Veterans Employment Program Offices exist within each of the 24 largest departments and agencies to provide employment assistance to veterans at the agency level. Although veteran applicants have access to Department of Labor and Department of Veterans Affairs resources in crafting applications for federal jobs, the Veterans Employment Program Offices exist on the hiring side to ensure that each department or agency is applicant-friendly for veterans. Created by an executive order during the Obama Administration, these offices would be made permanent with full-time staff and budgets under the Empowering Federal Employment for Veterans Act of 2017.
- Enable resource and information sharing (i.e., best practices, prospective applicants, and strategies for matching veterans with appropriate employment) across Veterans Employment Program Offices in different departments and agencies.
- Make permanent the interagency Council on Veterans Employment that promotes employment opportunities for veterans and coordination among Veterans Employment Program Offices.
- Expand and develop veterans counseling and training programs to focus on matching veterans’ skills and aspirations to high-demand federal jobs.
- Expand the Department of Defense SkillsBridge program to federal agencies. The SkillsBridge program promotes civilian job training by allowing transitioning military service members to participate in job and employment training starting up to six months prior to separation from the military.
The Justice for Service members and Veterans Act of 2017, would clarify and strengthen the rights of service members under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA). Under USERRA, if an employer does not offer the same pay, benefits or status when a service member comes back from military duty, the service member can hold the employer accountable for these violations in court. However, some service members have been unable to exercise their USERRA rights due to the increased use of forced arbitration clauses buried in the fine print of employment contracts. The Justice for Servicemembers and Veterans Act of 2017 gives service members the ability to pursue their USERRA claims in court without sacrificing the option to seek an arbitration agreement after a dispute arises.
This legislation would do the following:
- Strengthen enforcement of USERRA by preventing employers from including clauses in employment contracts that force service members to settle discrimination claims through arbitration. Designed by employers to shield themselves from accountability, these clauses are typically presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis and hidden in the fine print of employment contracts. Under these provisions, service members facing discrimination or wrongful termination due to their military status are precluded from accessing to the judicial system and instead are forced into private, costly arbitration systems set up by the same employers.
- Clarify the original intent of Congress to protect veterans and service members by providing them with both procedural and substantive rights.
- Grant independent authority to the Attorney General to investigate and serve as a named plaintiff in all suits filed by the Department of Justice to challenge violations of USERRA.