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City states policy for reservists



Published: Fri, September 21, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The city employs about 25 members of the National Guard or Reserve.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- The city has informed its employees who are in the National Guard and Reserve that if they are called up for active duty, the city is not obligated to maintain their health and life insurances.

The city also is not required to pay the difference between guardsmen's or reservists' military salary and their city salary if they are activated.

But the city has maintained health insurance benefits and paid the difference between the two salaries for its employees during past military conflicts and would do the same if city employees are called to active duty in response to last week's terrorist attacks, said John A. McNally IV, an assistant city law director. All that is needed is authorization from city council, he said.

Council can also vote to reinstate life insurance benefits, but most life insurance companies do not pay for people who die during acts of war so, it is an iffy proposition, McNally said.

Policy reminder: McNally wrote a letter to city department heads, reminding them of the city's policy on military activation stating, among other things, that guardsmen and reservists are not entitled to life insurance and that once they have used up their military leave, sick time and vacation time, they are considered as being on military leave without pay and would not be entitled to health insurance benefits.

There are about 25 city employees who are members of the National Guard or Reserve.

Rick Suarez, a 22-year city employee and an Army reservist, was shocked to find out that he could lose his health and life insurance benefits, as well as his salary, if he were called to active duty.

Upset about it: "This really hurt me because I thought the city would try to help city employees instead of throwing them out," said Suarez, who is also president of the United Steelworkers of America Local 2163 union, which represents wastewater plant employees. "This is what they think of us? I'm serving my country, and they're going to hold that against me."

McNally said that is just not the case. The city has a history of providing health benefits and making up the difference in pay for guardsmen and reservists during Operation Desert Storm and the Bosnian conflicts and probably would do it again.

"I would be very surprised if there are any problems," he said. "I certainly didn't mean to cause a problem. If any of our employees are called to active duty, we'll take the appropriate steps. The city has plenty of compassion and will do whatever needs to be done."

When told that the city was working on these issues, Suarez said he was pleased.

Policies vary: Businesses and government agencies have various policies about making up the difference in pay and providing benefits to their employees who are called to active duty, said Sgt. Bryan Ripple of the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna Township. But as a general rule, larger companies are more accommodating, he said.




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