July 16, 2007
Job equality for military families sought
Times Snohomish County bureau
Melissa West remembers the tough time she had trying to find a job while her husband served in the Air Force.
With degrees in marketing and psychology, she thought finding a job would be easy.
West remembers feeling stunned when she repeatedly was turned down for jobs, and the reason most often given was the fear she would leave once her husband was reassigned.
"My husband's squadron was in testing, and I was told once by an employer that if he dies, I'd just leave anyway," she said.
More than 20 years later, West says she hears the same concerns raised by current military spouses and family members.
"Employers often don't want to hire them because they fear their spouse will leave or the base eventually will close," she said. "The family is often unwilling to talk about it, however, for fear of it hurting their spouse's military career."
The Greater Marysville Tulalip Chamber of Commerce is looking to erase that stigma. It has created the Snohomish County Military Family Friendly Employment Partnership Initiative, a big name for a big project, says chamber President Caldie Rogers.
What Rogers and West hope is that Snohomish County will lead by example in encouraging employers to hire military family members.
"There is a prejudice that exists, a dilemma that has existed for decades," Rogers said. " 'Military dependents need not apply' can be a common theme."
The initiative seeks to educate local employers about the need to hire military family members and to help military families find financial security while living in Snohomish County.
The chamber is scheduling a September seminar at Naval Station Everett to launch the program officially, but in the meantime it is urging local municipalities to join the network that will persuade employers to keep hiring military family members.
Eventually, companies will be asked to join by signing a nonbinding agreement that they'll continue to create job opportunities for military family members.
"Reassignment shouldn't be a reason not to hire," Rogers said. "Today, job holders routinely seek new employment every three to four years whether they're military or not."
The initiative already is garnering interest. Snohomish County has signed on to promote the partnership, and top officers at Naval Station Everett are interested in seeing it become a success.
"I have heard such rumors [of job-finding difficulties] and have been in discussions with the chamber about it during the past six months," said Cmdr. Don Leingang, Naval Station Everett's executive officer. "I think it's more an issue outside of Snohomish County, but I think the program is beneficial in that it might identify a whole group of people that maybe employers didn't know were out there."
The reason it's likely more an issue outside Snohomish County, he said, is the Everett base's young age. Those leaders who worked hard to bring the naval station to Everett about 14 years ago are still active in the community. But in cities where bases are decades old, "those founding fathers are absent."
Leingang said military families are typically assigned to an area for about three years unless they have a second tour. During that time, families can become very entrenched in a community, he said.
"I don't think anyone's ever identified a work force like this before," Leingang said. "So I think a program like this could catch fire and spread throughout the state to other areas with military installations."
Leingang has been on the phone to McChord Air Force Base and Fort Lewis. Top officers there hope to attend the September seminar, he said.
Rogers also has an interested ear at the Department of Defense.
"I don't doubt it's an issue," said John Patterson, an ombudsman for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a volunteer division of the Defense Department that helps military personnel and employers understand federal laws governing employment.
Patterson is helping link Rogers with other military branches and organizations that promote military family wellbeing.
"She wants to get as many military people involved as possible," Patterson said. "I think the more government is involved, the more public companies will be willing to hire military spouses for employment."
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