Help at Home

This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," August 23, 2004, that was edited for clarity.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: You know, they gave up their lives to secure your freedom. But what happens when they return home? Will the jobs they still have be there when they return?

My next guest works with corporations to make sure our men and women can pick up where they left off. Joining me now is Thomas Hall, the assistant secretary of defense for Reserve Affairs and a rear admiral who served some 34 years in the U.S. Navy.

Secretary, thank you for joining us.


CAVUTO: The fact that so many reservists have stayed on longer than probably their bosses envisioned, how safe are their jobs when they return?

HALL: Of course we have umbrella legislation in our USERA Act which guarantees them their job when they return. So Congress passed that act some time ago, has updated it, and there is legislation which ensures that when they return their jobs are waiting for them.

CAVUTO: But I know of some businesses who might reserve the job for their reservists, but not quite the same job they had. Are these guys in danger of returning to downshifted or meager jobs from what they had?

HALL: Well, of course, organizations change, they have restructuring, jobs might change. But the law says they must work to give them back the equal job or another job within the organization.

CAVUTO: OK. What does that mean, then, that the same pay, same benefits, everything else is the same?

HALL: Yes, generally. And by the way, we have an umbrella organization that looks after that. The organization that works for me, with over 4,000 volunteers throughout the country, the territories and Europe, and one of their sole purposes is to interface with our employers of America, to answer questions they have.

And most of the time, Neil, we find that it is just misinformation on the part of the employers. They don’t know or a supervisor doesn’t know. When we explain the law to them, in almost all of the cases, 99.9 percent, they comply with the law.

CAVUTO: All right. But still, there are many bosses who have told me over the past year or so, Secretary, that had they known that they would be without some of their best workers for a year or more, they don’t know whether they’d be so cockeyed confident in this program. What do you say to them, those who are bringing in substitutes just to try to keep their businesses going?

HALL: Well, what I would say is America’s at war. It is a difficult time for all of our people, for active duty forces, for guardsman, reservists, for employers, for our citizens. And what I find is that the employers of America have responded magnificently.

It’s a story that hasn’t been told. Those freedom award winners that we’re bringing into Washington on the 21st of September to reward them for what they have done for the guardsmen and reservists have responded tremendously. And by the way, we invite you to that ceremony.

Fifteen of them we are honoring. Home Depot, Wal-Mart, the Sheriffs Department of Los Angeles have continued to pay their employees the pay differential, continued their health benefits, have continued to support them in every way. So what I see around this country is the unsung heroes are employers from America, and we owe them a great debt of gratitude.

CAVUTO: But, sir, what about the small or medium-sized businesses who don’t have the depth of bench that, let’s say, a Home Depot would have?

HALL: You’ve hit right upon the problem. Our greatest challenge are self-employed small businessmen. And we are trying to seek ideas and legislation.

One idea is tax relief. We welcome all other ideas. But they are the ones which have the biggest challenge.

CAVUTO: What do you mean in tax relief, Secretary? What would you propose?

HALL: Well, we have not proposed it. We’re working with Congress to say that if you should have guardsmen, reservists that are deployed and mobilized, perhaps you’d have tax relief that would allow you to hire temporary employees while they’re gone and to take care of your business at the time.

That’s just one of the ideas that we have. We welcome other ideas along the way. And by the way, there is an exemption policy that has been into effect for this mobilization.

We’ve had about 300 employers come in and say the loss of this particular employee is going to be very harmful, many of the police departments, first responders. We’ve approved about 70 percent of those when we find that it would do harm, particularly to police departments.

CAVUTO: Secretary, I apologize in advance for going into turf that maybe not is your own, but there is an argument out there that maybe we are tapping the reservists to the full extent we can and that a draft might be the solution down the road. What do you say?

HALL: Well, we have had about 400,000 guardsmen, reservists mobilized since 9/11. I checked before I came over today, and we have about 150,000 still on active duty. But let me tell you really what that represents.

That’s only 35 percent of our guard and reserve force of 1.2 million. We still have 65 percent that we haven’t used. And, yes, we are using them, but we developed a rotational plan. It is nobody’s best interest to over-tap and overuse our guard and reserve. I think we have enough, we are a bit out of balance, but we’re not out of people.

CAVUTO: All right. Now, certainly, there are a host of companies that are leading this effort. You mentioned Home Depot, but there is Harley-Davidson and General Electric and Wal-Mart.

Are there any indications any of these companies’ bottom lines have been impacted by this generous treatment of their reservists? I mentioned Wal-Mart. I was out with some distressing news today, Secretary, that probably had nothing do with this. But the sales of this fall period look like they could be on the softer than usual side. But have any of these companies indicated to you that their generosity toward our reservists is hurting their bottom line?

HALL: No. I think it is quite the opposite.

In fact, Bob Nardelli from Home Deport has said he doesn’t view it as -- as a requirement. He views it as an opportunity, because when he hires guardsmen and reservists and military, he gets a drug free leader, a person in that company that will help generate revenues. So I think they view it as a great opportunity and not as a downside.

CAVUTO: All right. Secretary, Admiral, always a pleasure. Appreciate it. Secretary Thomas Hall joining us from Washington.

HALL: Thank you, Neil.

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