May 17, 2009

Putting Veterans First in the Job Market

Finding a job is hard enough these days, and even harder for returning military veterans. Now Thomas R. Suozzi, the Nassau County executive, wants to put servicemen and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan at the front of the line for job openings.

By Linda Saslow-
“Although in today’s economy it’s hard to foresee how many jobs we will be able to provide, the veterans will have first preference.”

Mr. Suozzi announced Warriors to Work, a program to provide job opportunities for those veterans. He said it was the first public-private program in the country to provide employment opportunities for returning veterans from the current wars.

“Over 3,000 Nassau County residents have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11, and there are still hundreds more fighting for our country today,” Mr. Suozzi said after announcing the initiative. Federal Labor Department statistics for 2007 show the unemployment rate for veterans, including those 18 to 24 who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, was considerably higher than the rate for nonveterans.

Mr. Suozzi said he got the idea for the initiative from Fred Wilpon, the principal owner of the Mets, who, during a Dec. 15 meeting at a Nassau restaurant, suggested that Mr. Suozzi “do something for veterans.”

Mr. Suozzi met with officials of the Building and Construction Trades Council and the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System and received commitments for jobs from them. Then he received pledges from four trade unions and a dozen other companies. The participants include the Long Island Federation of Labor, the Bethpage Federal Credit Union, CVS, King Kullen and the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

The unions and companies committed to placing more than 200 veterans who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan in jobs on Long Island this year. The county’s Veterans Service Agency will work with human resources departments to help match veterans to appropriate jobs.

James Castellane, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council and a Vietnam War veteran, said in a telephone interview that the initiative was modeled on the Helmets to Hard Hats program, which since 2003 has been helping veterans find jobs within the 36 trade unions represented by the council.

“These jobs have to have a pension, an annuity, medical benefits and a union card,” he said, referring to the council’s commitment. “Although in today’s economy it’s hard to foresee how many jobs we will be able to provide, the veterans will have first preference.”

John R. Durso, president of the Long Island Federation of Labor, which represents 135unions and 250,000 employees on the Island, said the county’s program would give business and labor an opportunity to work together to support veterans.

“We will be talking to different employers and affiliates to get as many jobs as we can,” he said in a phone interview. “Where there are already jobs available, we will help slot them for veterans, and we will also work with employers to help create new positions.”

Michael J. Dowling, president and chief executive of the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System — the Island’s largest employer, with 38,000 employees — has already increased his initial pledge for 2009 to 20 jobs from 10. He said he expected to be able to provide even more jobs to returning veterans, at all levels, on a continuing basis. Since 2004, North Shore-L.I.J. has hired 94 people who identified themselves as veterans, said a spokesman, Terry Lynam.

“Being such a large organization, there are openings all the time, and we are committed to providing permanent positions with benefits and a career track,” Mr. Dowling said.

Two years ago, he said, North Shore-L.I.J. set up a family wellness center to help veterans deal with stress-related problems; for employees who serve abroad, jobs are guaranteed upon their return, with compensation for salary missed during military service.

Richard A. Cody, a retired four-star general who served as vice chief of staff of the Army from 2004 to last July, joined Mr. Suozzi to announce the new initiative.

“When soldiers return after 12 to 15 months away from their families, many haven’t had time to do job searches or think about their transition,” General Cody said. “Today, veterans return home with broader skill sets than ever. Many of the vets possess years of high-tech vocational training, leadership skills, and some have earned college degrees while on active duty.”

Mr. Suozzi said that he would continue to encourage businesses and agencies to sign on to the Warriors to Work initiative and that the county’s monthly newsletter to veterans would remind them of the program.

Source: Veterans Today


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