Being a reservist used to mean there was good chance you wouldn't see combat. But with our armed forces engaged in 6 different war zones right now, they're very likely to be called into battle. And when they come back from being deployed...some find themselves unemployed.
Unemployed....and without a chance for their day in court. In fact, nearly 2,600 cases were filed with the government, by soldiers who say they were treated like deserters by their bosses. It's all because of agreements some are forced to sign with employers, which limits the recourse for getting their jobs back.
Navy Reservist Lieutenant Kevin Ziober is no stranger to war zones.
He's been deployed twice. His base shelled by rockets.
But he never expected he'd be going from the firing line to the unemployment line.
"I'm thinking, when I come back, how am I going to provide for myself? How am I going to put food on the table?" said Lt. Ziober.
in 2012, Lieutenant Ziober told his employer, a real estate firm that actually deals with government, that he was being deployed to Afghanistan for more than a year.
Colleagues threw him a goodbye party with an American flag cake, and decorated his doors with camouflage netting. But several hours later, his bosses said he was fired.
Talk about shock and awe.
“Those warfighters go into battle with their families in their thoughts. And if you know you don't have a job, that has to weigh on a service member. And I think that takes away from their mission focus," said the Lieutenant.
A federal law called the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, or USERRA, is supposed to shield service members in cases like this. But the Lieutenant lost those protections, when six months after being hired, they forced him to sign a contract agreeing to settle any disputes through arbitration.
"Am I going to call the company's bluff and not sign it? Probably not. I didn’t want to lose a good paying job," said Lt. Ziober.
So, after returning from duty he sued to get his job back, citing USERRA, taking his case all the way to the Supreme Court.
And a bipartisan group of twenty lawmakers, including U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, even filed a “friend of the court” petition. But the court refused to hear his case.
"I was sort of amazed that anyone wouldn't re-employ a service member," said Attorney Joe Barton.
Barton specializes in Veterans and Employee law, and represents Lieutenant Ziober.
He says arbitration is stacked in favor of employers who often have relationships with the arbitrators. The proceedings take place behind closed doors, with no jury and no right to appeal. And losing those employment safeguards is especially hard on service members.
"They're less likely to have savings, they're more in need and more dependent, and more likely to be living paycheck to paycheck," said Attorney Barton.
It's why Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut introduced a bill called the Justice For Service Members Act, which would close the loopholes in these types of agreements.
"After fighting for our freedom abroad and at home, our reserve members should have the right to fight for their job here," said Senator Blumenthal.
And Lt. Ziober pushed Congress to pass it when he testified before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs last year.
"Sadly my story is not unique. Every year thousands of reservists lose their jobs or miss out on benefits," said Lt. Ziober
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is fighting the bill, saying it would open the door to class action lawsuits. And for now it's on hold.
Lieutenant Ziober says all of those Congress people who talk the talk of supporting our military need to start walking the walk.
“If military reservists don't have those protections to give up their civilian jobs to go defend America,
our military suffers, our national defense suffers, and our country is put at risk," said Lt. Ziober.
If you want to help change this, you can. Call your representative, our senators, and tell them you want this bill passed. Click here for their contact information.