Friday, June 03, 2011

Do you wanna dance?









No matter what happens, Iraq War veteran Adam Kokesh's DC event opens tomorrow's snapshot. The host of RT's Adam vs. the Man was among those assaulted by DC Parks Police over the weekend discusses his Dance Party this Saturday at Thomas Jefferson's Memorial starting at noon on yesterday's broadcast (airs Mondays through Fridays at 7:00 pm EST). You can refer to Adam's program and to this Facebook page for more on the event. And while Adam's hosting the DC Dance Party, soldiarty Dance Parties are springing up around the country to be held at the same time for those who are unable to attend the event in DC. Excuse me, all over the country and at places around the world. Ontario has announced their Solidarity Dance Party and so has Paris. There's also a video contest taking place here (winner to be determined by noon tomorrow based upon which video has the most views). Adam noted on yesterday's broadcast, "We just decided that Friday night, at 8:00 pm, for those of you in DC or who are coming to DC for this event, we are going to be meeting for a pre-party at 8:00 pm at Dupont Circle and it will be a chance for you to meet, maybe some fellow dancers, hang out, get to know them, in a slightly more relaxed environment than what we might see at the Jefferson Memorial on Saturday."
"I think we all can agree that this is one of the most important hearings that we'll have in this Congress," noted House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Jeff Miller yesterday morning. Noting that the unemployment rate for today's veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars (young veterans) is "as high as 13.1%," and went on to make remarks that left me confused. What does Miller mean when he proclaims "there are legal protections for Guardsmen and Reservists who left work to fight for our country. By law, they are entitled to have or back to their jobs when they come home. We need to be aggressive in enforcement of this law"?
Yes, it is illegal to fire someone because they're serving in the Guard. But what is this "we need to be aggressive in enforcement of this law"? Congress makes laws, it doesn't enforce them. And on the enforcement side here, it doesn't exist. Disclosure, I'm covering legal expenses for a friend in my state who is suing to get his job back (it was 'filled' while he was overseas). There's no, "Quick, call San Francisco PD and get an officer out here to arrest someone!" There will be no prison time at the end for the employers. My friend will get his job back and he'll get some sort of cash settlement. But there's no enforcement of this law. That's a joke and it's insulting to pretend that there is. The branch addressing this is the judicial branch.
If Chair Miller would like to legislate some new and more strict laws, that would be great. But as they exist currently, let's stop pretending that these laws are "enforced." They're not. That's why so many Guard members and Reservists are having to turn to the courts. This is not a minor point and it enraged me yesterday so I held off on this hearing thinking I'd be more laid back on the issue today. I'm not. If Chair Miller was just trying to offer some meaningless but pleasing words, he needs to be aware that people aren't stupid enough to applaud those words. But if he comes up with an actual plan -- he says he's hoping to "introduce a new jobs bill for veterans," great. We'll note it, we'll review it here. But if the bill has nothing on protecting the jobs of those called up (or it has toothless and meaingless words), we'll note that as well. This is becoming one of the biggest employment issues for Reservists and Guard members. And prior to recently, I would note, scanning the papers across the country, at least one regional story each month on a veteran going through this. But until a friend of mine faced this problem recently, I didn't realize how widespread it was. I think many people are as ignorant of that as I was. It's not getting the attention it deserves.
Ranking Member Bob Filner noted in his opening remarks (oral, not the prepared, written remarks), "I would associate myself with your [Chair Miller] comments except for one statement. You -- you start off with the mantra that we have to reduce taxes on small business which I would agree with and cut spending. And then you go on to say how we need more training and this and that. Seems to me we have to increase spending in these areas and I'm not afraid to come out and say it. We've got to increase our spending in these areas. If we're going to put people back to work, it's going to take some investment."
The Committee heard from three panels of witnesses. The first panel was composed of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies' Richard Hobbie, DirectEmployers Association's Jolene Jefferies, the Chamber of Commerce's Kevin Schmiegel and the Society for Human Resource Management's Hank Jackson. Schmiegel was the only witness on any panel to note that unemployment might be about to increase with a number of service members due to return from Afghanistan and Iraq. We'll note this from the hearing.
Committee Chair Jeff Miller: Thanks to each of you for your testimony. I think we've heard a common thread among a lot of what you had to say. There are a lot of programs out there and a lot of information out there, a lot of ways that people can get to it but nobody knows it's there. How do we do it? I mean that's -- we've already got the programs in place, the websites are out there, VA's got it, SHRM's got it. Who wants to start? And I'd be glad to hear from anyone of you on a simple way to fix our problem.
Hank Jackson: I'll -- I'll take that simply because SHRM, as a human resource association, sort of takes its on as one of our responsibilities. I truly believe that education is what's sorely lacking. When we go to our members -- we surveyed our members last year -- 53% of our members indicated that they were actually attempting to hire veterans but were not sure about how to go about it, how to target veterans. We believe that through the programs with the Dept of Labor Vets, that we are developing a tool kit for veterans and employers that we hope to roll out sometimes before the end of the year in conjunction with the Dept of Labor. We believe that our members are truly committed to this cause. It's a matter of giving them a succinct place to go to address this issue.
Richard Hobbie: Mr. Chairman, I agree with Mr. Jackson that partnerships with employers and federal, state and local agencies is extremely important and, of course, we've made great progress on that in the last four years with our partnership with DirectEmployers Association and we continue to make progress.
Jolene Jefferies: And I can just say, I kicked off -- we did a, DirectEmployers Association hiring and retaining veterans web in our education series and that has been keeping me incredibly busy. There's definitely a strong interest in this. And to Mr. Jackson's point, there's a lot of turnover in these human resource departments and it does require continuous communication and education. And we just can't stop that effort. It's got to be an ongoing initiative. So in that spirit, we're providing this education series, recording it, and it's open to the public, does not cost anything and we've had state work force agencies, LVERs [Local Veterans Employment Representatives], DVOP [Disabled Veterans Outreach Program], the VA, the OFCCP [Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs] employers all demanding this training so there is a huge need for that.
Committee Chair Jeff Miller: Finally, Mr. Schmiegel.
Kevin Schmiegel: Thank you, sir. I'd like to make two points. The first point which is one of the principles we talked about is that the effort has to be focused on the local community. In my last assignment as a Marine, I was the head of Assignment Monitors. I managed 60 human resource specialist in the Marine Corps that assigned 170,000 Marines worldwide. One of our other primary responsibilities was to retain Marines. We only retain about 1 out of every four Marines so when we were doing our interviews to talk to those Marines about their decision to leave, we often asked them what they were going to do next. They never talked about what they were going to do next, they always talked about where they were going. The fact is, veterans and their families are returning to local communities every day. So the second point, which talks to the local community, is efforts have to be better coordinated between the public and private sector in those local communities. Our approach is simple, we're going to do a hundred events, a hundred hiring fairs in those local communities using the local Chambers of Commerce and the relationships that we have formed nationally with the Dept of Labor Vets and with the employer support of the Guard and Reserve and Ray Jefferson's state directors [Jefferson is the Assistant Secretary for the Department of Labor Veterans Emplyment and Training] and Ron Young's -- Ron Young's team of state directors [Young is the Executive Direcot of the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve] in the Guard and Reserve are going to get together in those local communities and execute events. If we focus on local communities and we better coordinate private and public sector efforts, we will be more successful.
Committee Chair Jeff Miller: I salute the Chamber on the 100 jobs fairs you're talking about holding but I think you just hit on part of your problem. If they're all returning to their own home communities, you have tens of thousands of communities which we need to be penetrating and be able to communicate with. So how do we solve that problem? They all want to go home -- and I certainly understand that -- so I mean we've got small cities of several thousand to large cities of millions. Sir?
Kevin Schmiegel: I think there has to be several different models, several different approaches to this. So we've conducted what Ray and I refer to as mega-hiring fairs in cities like Chicago, in cities like New York, in cities like Los Angeles, that model may have over a hundred, a hundred-and-fifty employers and a couple of thousand veterans and their spouses attend. We generally have high level speakers, we have transitional workshops to offer in conjunction with that. When we go to smaller areas -- We'll be in, we'll be in Great Falls, Montana on August 13th, the model is different. You have to focus on fewer number of employees and you have to also take into account that neighboring states from Montana may have significantly lower rates of unemployment than Great Falls. So you may ask a big employer like Haliburton, who has a significant number of jobs in the eastern portion of the state and in the neighboring state, to offer jobs to veterans and their families to relocate either in Montana or in a neighboring state. So I think the answer to the question is the model is different. You have to start somewhere. A hundred is a very aggressive number. The US Chamber of Commerce has over 17,000 local Chambers of Commerce affiliated with us. Next year, if this campaign is successful, we hope that the 100 becomes 500. And the year after that, we hope the 500 becomes 1,000. Thank you.
Commitee Chair Jeff Miller: Thank you. Mr. Filner?
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I thank you all for your testimony and your efforts. This is obviously a Congressional hearing and we have oversight of the VA. I haven't heard any suggestions on what we ought to be doing or what the VA ought to be doing. Looks like the only guy who's doing anything in government is Mr. Jefferson over here -- I mean, from the testimony -- I know you're false modest. But what are we all doing here? I mean this ought to be a top priority for everybody. And I can imagine -- you guys are the experts -- but if I just thought about it for a few seconds I could think of what the VA could be doing. I mean, why isn't every regional office, for example, putting out a list of veterans and their specialties and what they're seeking jobs as? You guys all said we have trouble linking up with who the veterans are. Well the VA knows every veteran. Let's just put out a list of everybody who's looking for a job. I mean, it just doesn't seem difficult. We hear about the transition of skills in the military being hard to translate. We could deem anybody who's in electronics or a medic or a truck driver -- I mean, we can give them a certificate that says "For the purposes of hiring, this serves as" you know "what ever entry level." And people can be trained further. But they have incredible skills. We've been working on this civilian certification for, I don't know, decades. Nobody can seem to solve it. We've got guys truck driving all over Iraq or Afghanistan, they come home and they find out they have to take a six month course to get a commercial driving license. They say, "Hey, what do I need that for?" And they get discouraged. They're truck drivers. They know how to do it and they do it under the most difficult conditions you can imagine. Let them have a certificate that starts with a job. Or electronics people or medics. I mean, I've watched these medics. They have incredible -- they do things that no civilian would ever think of doing and yet they've got to go through some other certification, masters and go to this college and that college. Come on. They have the training. And we could just do it. I'd like you to give us some suggestions in either law, regulation, just executive order that we can help you do the kind of things you're doing every day. You are out there. We ought to be helping you in every way we can and the VA's job is to do that. Give us one thing we could do, if each of you could do that.
Jolene Jefferies: I think for starters, what would really help employers and we don't need a list of names necessarily but even just a simple heat map, for instance, that shows what the talent pools of veterans are, what their skills are, and where, in terms of geography, where can we find certain veterans with specific skills. And that way, we can at least hone down our recruiting strategy --
Ranking Member Bob Filner: Done. Let's do it. Anybody from the VA here? Where's Ms. Fanning? [VA's Ruth Fanning] Afraid to raise her hand? Whatever -- she say heat map? [Pointing to VA staff] Whatever a heat map is, let's do it. I can imagine what it is, but I'm sure it's easy.
This continued with Filner handing out assignements but only Jefferies had an answer ready on what she needed. She had to be asked, she did not require prompting (not true of others). There's another hearing, one we attended today, that I'll try to note tomorrow. There's no room in the snapshot for it today.

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